SITE: Memorial Stadium, Berkeley, Calif.
SURFACE: Momentum Turf
SERIES: Stanford leads 55-46-11 (last meeting, 2009, 34-28)
RECORDS: Stanford 9-1, 5-1; California 5-5, 3-4
POLLS: Stanford (7 AP, 8 USA Today)
KEYS TO THE GAME
For Stanford: Overpower Cal's defense with its physical offensive line. Cal has been great defensively against teams that rely on spread formations and speed, but it has not been as effective against powerful, straight-ahead teams. Defensively, Stanford must make inexperienced Cal QB Brock Mansion try to win the game.
For California: Get the same kind of defensive effort against Stanford as it did against Oregon. As good as Stanford QB Andrew Luck is, the Bears' top defensive priority is to stop the Cardinal's running game. P Bryan Anger must keep Stanford pinned deep in its territory to force the Cardinal to go a long way to score.
SCOUTING THE TEAMS
Stanford's offense has been impressive all season, despite being limited to a season-low 17 points in the Nov. 13 victory over Arizona State. The Cardinal still averages 39.8 ppg, which ranks 10th in the country. Although Andrew Luck may be the best quarterback in the country, the Cardinal's strength is its power running game. The Cardinal's offensive line is among the best in the country, and TBs Stepfan Taylor, Anthony Wilkerson and Tyler Gaffney are all effective runners. Stanford has a wide array of capable of receivers, from a number of effective tight ends to wide receivers Ryan Whalen, Chris Owusu and Doug Baldwin. Owusu's status for the game is uncertain, however.
The Cardinal defense had some problems midway through the season, but it has been outstanding recently, yielding just 30 points over the past three games combined. The Cardinal does not have a particularly fast defense, and when opposing skill-position players get the ball in space, Stanford has some problems. But the Cardinal's strong pass rush has helped its pass defense considerably. The Cardinal defensive backs are much better than they were a year ago, partly because of the improved pass rush.
Cal's offense remains a question mark with QB Brock Mansion in charge since taking over for Kevin Riley, who is out for the rest of the season with a knee injury. Mansion did all right against Washington State, but he had a lot of problems last week against Oregon, completing just 10 of 28 passes for 69 yards. Cal has had a productive running game with TB Shane Vereen, who rushed for 112 yards against Oregon, but until Mansion gains accuracy on his throws, the Bears' offense may continue to struggle.
Cal's defense has been great at home, and the game against Stanford will be at Cal. Most of the success, however, was against spread offenses. The Bears have enough speed to deal pretty well with offenses that spread the field, but the Bears have more problems with teams that power the ball straight ahead, which is what Stanford does. LB Mike Mohamed is coming off an outstanding game, and he and DE Cam Jordan are capable of making big plays. The Bears' defensive backs have played well this season, but they will have a lot of pressure on them from Stanford QB Andrew Luck.
Cardinal: If Stanford beats Cal, its 10-1 record would be its best record over 11 games since 1940, when the Cardinal went 10-0. ... Stanford has won five straight games, its longest winning streak since 1996. A win over Cal would give Stanford its first six-game winning streak since 1991. ... Stanford has lost seven of its last eight games against Cal and has lost four in row in Berkeley. ... The Cardinal has scored 398 points through 10 games, the fourth-highest single-season total in school history. TB Stepfan Taylor needs 151 rushing yards to become first Stanford sophomore to rush for 1,000 yards in a season since Darrin Nelson in 1978. ... PK Nate Whitaker has 88 points this season, the ninth-highest single-season total in Stanford history. He needs only two more points to tie for eighth on the Cardinal single-season scoring list and just four to move into sixth place.
Bears: Jeff Tedford is 7-1 against Stanford since becoming Cal's head coach. That includes a 34-28 upset of the Cardinal at Stanford last season. Immediately prior to Tedford's arrival, Stanford had won seven straight Big Games. ... Cal needs one win in its final two games to become bowl eligible for the eighth straight year. It needs two wins to avoid its first losing season under Tedford. ... Cal is 37-7 at home over its last 44 games at Memorial Stadium. In home games this season, Cal has averaged 40.4 points while yielding 9.8. On the road, Cal has allowed 31.6 points while scoring 16.2. ... TB Shane Vereen has 13 rushing touchdowns, two shy of the school's single-season record held by J.J. Arrington, Jahvid Best and Justin Forsett. ... P Bryan Anger is one of 10 players named as semifinalists for the Ray Guy Award, which goes to the nation's top punter. Anger is averaging 45.5 ypp. That will be a single-season Cal record if he maintains that average.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
LBs Thomas Keiser and Chase Thomas -- The two outside linebackers have combined for 8.5 sacks and 15 tackles for losses. If they get penetration as they should, they could record some sacks and possibly create a turnover or two.
QB Andrew Luck -- Luck never seems to make a bad decision, and he does everything required of a quarterback. He even provides a running threat, which makes him difficult to sack and makes him dangerous on the option. His accuracy and ability to read the field are his biggest assets, though, and if he has time, he should be able to pick apart the Bears secondary.
TB Stepfan Taylor -- Taylor was limited to 39 rushing yards in 16 carries in last week's game against Arizona State, but his rugged inside running style behind Stanford's physical offensive line should be effective against Cal's defense. He may catch a few passes as well.
WRs Marvin Jones, Jeremy Ross and Keenan Allen -- All three need to break some long plays against a Cardinal defense that is vulnerable to speed on the outside. Look for Cal to get them the ball at the line of scrimmage and let them find running room themselves.
LB Mike Mohamed -- He is Cal's best defensive player, and he had a big game against Oregon. He was the hero in last season's Big Game, intercepting Andrew Luck's pass late in the game to end Stanford's final scoring threat. He is very capable of making a similar big play this season.
S Sean Cattouse -- If Cal is to stay in the game, it must prevent Stanford from getting big plays out of its wide receivers. Cattouse is good at playing the ball in the air and making big plays with a big hit or an interception.
WR Chris Owusu (undisclosed, questionable).
PREDICTION: Stanford 38-21