Take all the pageantry of “The Big Game” – the annual meeting between Stanford and California’s football teams – all of the tradition, the bitterness created by proximity, “The Play,” all of it.
At its essence, this rivalry is a slice of what college football is supposed to be. It’s also supposed to be played in late November as one, final grudge match between two teams that hate each others’ guts.
Now take all of it and stick it in the middle of October. Doesn’t quite have the same feel, does it?
“I’m not saying it’s easy to make the schedules,” Cal coach Jeff Tedford said. “But I think that should be the first thing that’s looked at, is the traditional games.”
The annual game between Cal and Stanford is one of the first victims of the Pac-12’s expanded, tighter schedule, as the Big Game will be played Saturday in Berkeley, an odd time indeed to play one of the game’s most storied rivalries.
But that’s the reality of college football’s new era. Cal and Stanford might be the first to deal with it, but they won’t be the last in the Pac-12, which expects to schedule other rivalry games early in the season in coming years.
“We’re in a state now where we don’t anticipate this happening very often,” Stanford coach David Shaw said. “But this is going to be a possibility going forward just because it’s hard to schedule 12 teams’ nonconference schedules.”
It becomes even harder when teams such as Stanford and Southern California also have contracts to play Notre Dame on an annual basis, leaving less flexibility in those teams’ schedules.
If there’s a positive to be found on either side, it’s that the Cardinal are coming off a tough 20-13 loss to Notre Dame last week, and need only the motivation of beating Cal to refocus this week.
“I think you need a place to place your emotions,” Shaw said. “What better game to have one to try to forget last week than the Big Game? I think that’s helped a lot.”
Tedford said he’s taken an “oh, well” approach to it all, saying that’s about all he can do at this point. And at least the two teams still get to play each other. Tedford referenced the discontinuation of the Texas vs. Texas A&M rivalry – A&M moved out of the Big 12 to the SEC – as evidence that tradition seems to be headed toward the wayside these days.
“At some point,” Tedford said, “there has to be a stand for some of the rivalries and traditions of college football.”
Another big game
The real big game in the conference this week is the matchup between No. 2-ranked and Pac-12 North co-leader Oregon (6-0, 3-0 Pac-12) and Pac-12 South leader Arizona State (5-1, 3-0 Pac-12) in Tempe on Thursday night.
The Ducks have won each of their games this season by 17 or more points, and have scored 42 or more points in each of those.
ASU also prefers to play fast under first-year coach Todd Graham, making this one of the most anticipated Pac-12 games so far this season.
Oregon coach Chip Kelly dismissed the notion that his team hasn’t been tested yet this season.
“You say that to the Huskies fans,” Kelly said, referring to the Ducks’ 52-21 win over Washington.
As for preparing freshman quarterback Marcus Mariota for what is expected to be a hostile crowd at Sun Devil Stadium, Kelly said: “We just pipe in crowd noise and sound at practice, which is what we’ve always done here. We don’t throw stuff at him in practice or put up signs demeaning him or anything.”