Neither California nor Washington are bowl eligible as of yet. And that won't change regardless of the outcome in tonight's matchup in Berkeley, Calif.
But one team appears on pace to reach the postseason while the other slips further and further behind in what has been a frustrating season to date. While Washington comes into town with a bit of momentum following its win over Oregon State last week, the Bears (3-6, 2-4) have dropped two in a row and five of their past seven.
After it appeared they'd picked up some traction with back-to-back wins in early October -- including a nice home victory over No. 25 UCLA -- Cal has been outscored 70-30 in its past two games.
Still, head coach Jeff Tedford insists his team remains motivated for a stretch run that includes Oregon next week before closing out the year at Oregon State.
"The attitude is good," Tedford said. "I think the motivation and the attitude is there. I think the leadership has been good. I don't see any wavering from that. The players are committed to playing their hardest and doing the preparation to be successful and win games. That's key, obviously, that leadership shows up. I can talk as much as I want about it, but it comes down to players. I've been pleased with the attitudes and the work ethic they've had and it continues to be that way. Obviously there is disappointment. But they are pretty resilient and always come to work."
The workload will be tougher this week without standout wide receiver Keenan Allen, who will miss the game with a knee injury.
Both sides are also downplaying the fact that ex-Cal coaches Tosh Lupoi and Eric Kiesau are making return trips to Cal. Lupoi in particular drew some harsh criticism from the Cal faithful when he darted during recruiting season. Both Washington coach Steve Sarkisian and Tedford, at least publicly, said it's not a big deal.
"Tosh did a great job here and everyone has a great deal of respect for him," Tedford said. "It's not something we're talking about or preaching. It's us on the field and our players and their players. I hope we're motivated to play because we want to win and not some personal thing ... They have a little bit of background, but there's not a lot we can change. We are who we are so we're not going to reinvent the wheel here."
Sarkisian added there shouldn't be an advantage either way: "Every year, every team is different. We've got guys that moved on from our place and we're different this year than we were last year ... any tendencies there are on film. That's what you study film for. We've got our tendencies as well."
With a win, Washington (4-4, 2-3) gets a step closer to bowl eligibility. But even though they have upended a pair of top-10 teams this season, Sarkisian said the offensive inconsistencies need to improve. The Huskies are yet to score more than 21 points against an FBS opponent and rank 105th nationally in points scored with 20.6 per game.
"Our inconsistency is just glaring to me," Sarkisian said. "It's not one guy, it's not two guys. I just feel like we keep taking our turns. Sometimes it's the play-caller that takes his turn. It takes 11 guys executing on every snap to win that snap and for whatever reason or another we just stub our own toes with mistakes that we really shouldn't be making. That's the fight for us. I know that we are better than the way we have been playing. I'm waiting for the game to come where we put it all together and play consistently, disciplined and executing plays down after down after down because when we do we'll be pretty good. It's never too late to get there. Change is inevitable, either you're going to get better or get worse and so the goal for us is to get better and continue to work towards that."