Not Since 1991

California and Stanford are both ranked in the BCS top 25 (Stanford No. 17, Cal No. 25), and for the first time since 1991, when No. 21 Stanford hosted No. 6 Cal, the Bears and Cardinal enter the Big Game with records above .500…

The Big Game is one of the richest rivalry games in college football. It's a game where records are thrown out the window and winning the Stanford Axe can ease the pain of a unproductive season. Nonetheless, this Saturday, California and Stanford enter their annual tussle with much more than pride on the line.

Cal and Stanford have only met twice in the last 50 years when both squads have been ranked in the AP top 25 poll – 1991 and 1951.

Russell White was a first-team
All-American in 1991.
The '91 matchup featured two teams led by dynamic running backs. Then No. 21, 7-3 Stanford had all-purpose back Glyn Milburn and No. 6, 9-1 Cal countered with bruising Russell White. But it was Cardinal fullback Tommy Vardell who stole the show rushing for 182 yards on a school-record 39 carries to lead Stanford to a 38-21 win. Almost 20 years later, the roles are reversed.

While Cal's Jahvid Best is not playing, backup Shane Vereen is similar. Both are explosive backs that can line up at the slot while getting a bulk of their yards in open space and Vereen also returns kicks. He leads No. 25, 7-3 Cal against bruising Toby Gerhart and No. 17, 7-3 Stanford.

"I haven't seen who's favored or whatever, but I would anticipate that we're an underdog. Whatever the point thing is I don't know," said Cal head coach Jeff Tedford. "[Stanford has] played so well to put themselves in the position that they are, and you can't take anything away from them."

The Bears are out of the Pac-10 title race but the Cardinal is still in the hunt for a conference championship and Rose Bowl berth. And Cal would like nothing more than to prevent Stanford from achieving their championship aspirations.

Back-to-back wins over top 10 teams (Oregon and USC) have fueled the Cardinal's rise in the polls. Stanford cannot win the conference outright nor does it control its own destiny. Both Oregon and Arizona must lose – they meet Saturday – as would Oregon State for the Cardinal to lay claim to a piece of the Pac-10 title and earn the tiebreaker to a Rose Bowl berth.

"It's unbelievably impressive what they've done," Tedford said of Stanford's last two wins. "They play so physical. Their offensive line is the best offensive line in the conference. They're big, they're athletic. [They have] physical tight ends, fullback is very physical. Toby [Gerhart] is a runner that doesn't go down with arm tackles and has the speed in the open field to break the long one. Those games are no fluke. There wasn't anything flukish about those games. Those were dominating performances. We have our hands full without a doubt."

Regardless, the Cardinal is just 1-6 against Jeff Tedford coached teams. But current Stanford head coach Jim Harbaugh is 1-1.

Cal is coming off its best win of the season beating then No. 17 Arizona, 24-16. Despite not having Best, the Big Game could not have come at a better time for the Bears.

The offense was finally able to move the ball on sustained drives versus the Wildcats, something they will have to this week in Palo Alto.

"We're going to have to be able to run the football a little bit, we're going to have to be able to protect our passer and make some plays in the passing game," Tedford said of keys to beating Stanford. It's football, that's what it comes down to."

As for beating the Cardinal…

"Try to slow the run game down," said Tedford. "It comes down to football. You put pressure on the passer, you try to slow down the run game, win the turnover battle, don't turn the ball over. Field position is very important. Special teams is big to create position."

Stanford is a touchdown favorite, a very conservative line considering they are at home, where they are 5-0 this season. Cal is 0-1 in the refurbished Stanford Stadium. The Bears were just 5-10 in its last 15 games at the old Stanford Stadium. But with the "Axe" on the line, anything is possible.

"Losing in '06 to USC was pretty bad, but losing the Axe in '07 was the worst feeling I ever had in my life," said Cal senior offensive tackle Mike Tepper. "It tears you apart and tears the community apart. It means a lot to us. I think we're definitely going to be pretty motivated to bring back a victory."

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