While Stanford and California aren't thrilled about having to play the 115th edition of the Big Game this early in the season, Saturday's showdown figures to be just like any other with the Stanford Axe up for grabs.
Looking to regroup from a controversial loss, the No. 22 Cardinal try for a third consecutive win over the Golden Bears as these archrivals square off at Memorial Stadium.
Stanford (4-2, 2-1 Pac-12) had dropped seven of eight to Cal (3-4, 2-2) before taking the two most recent matchups -- including a 48-14 win in Berkeley in 2010.
These schools typically meet toward the end of conference play, but this year's date had to be moved up due to the expanded league's schedule. Saturday's game is the earliest in the history of this storied series.
"We're going to prepare and we're going to play. There's nothing I can do about it," Cal coach Jeff Tedford said. "But it's a little bit awkward, because you normally play your traditional rival at the end of the year."
Stanford coach David Shaw shares the same sentiment.
"I don't like it," he said. "I think it's weird. I think it's different... It doesn't matter when it is or where it is. We'll be up for it."
Hoping to avoid opening 0-3 on the road for the first time since 2006, the Cardinal are surely looking forward to getting back on the field following a 20-13 overtime defeat at then-No. 7 Notre Dame last Saturday. Stanford had a chance to tie the game on fourth-and-goal in OT, but running back Stepfan Taylor's progress was ruled to have stopped before he stretched the ball across the goal line.
The national coordinator of NCAA football officials said Tuesday that the decision to uphold the ruling was correct.
"It's hard to say because I'm going to be the most biased guy you'll find," Shaw said. "It's impossible for me to look at it completely objectively. I applaud my guy's effort to keep fighting. I think it's a tough call when it goes upstairs to the booth. It's out of our hands. We have to deal with what the decision is."
Fourth in the Pac-12 with 109.5 rushing yards per game, Taylor finished with 102 while Josh Nunes completed 12 of 25 passes for 125 yards and two interceptions. Stanford allowed a season-high 150 yards on the ground, with its lone touchdown coming on linebacker Chase Thomas' fumble recovery in the end zone.
"We've got to learn. We've got to tackle better. We've got to play our gaps. We know that we can fight and that we can push through things," Thomas said. "It's a tough one to let go, but it's Big Game week. We've got to regroup."
Despite their poor results against the Irish, the Cardinal are giving up an average of 89.3 rushing yards to rank sixth in the country. Slowing down the Golden Bears' ground game could prove crucial this weekend.
After beating then-No. 25 UCLA 43-17 on Oct. 6, Cal posted a 31-17 win at Washington State last Saturday behind a season-high 318 rushing yards. The Golden Bears, averaging 195.0 yards on the ground, have gone 61-10 when rushing for at least 160 since the start of 2002.
"We're starting to get our identity up front, from the back understanding what they need to see and our linemen doing what they've been doing," Tedford said.
C.J. Anderson, who gashed the Bruins for a career-best 151 rushing yards, carried the ball 15 times for 112 yards and two touchdowns last weekend while Isi Sofele and Brendan Bigelow compiled a combined 122. Quarterback Zach Maynard added 78 rushing yards on 10 attempts.
"We have one of the best running back groups in the country no matter who's out there," Anderson said.
Stanford will also need to be wary of Keenan Allen, who hauled in a season-high 11 receptions for 166 yards -- including a 69-yard score -- against the Cougars. With 196 career catches, Allen is seven away from surpassing Geoff McArthur's school record set from 2000-04.
Cardinal wideout Ty Montgomery, meanwhile, is expected to miss his second straight game with a leg injury.
The Golden Bears had dropped eight in a row against Top 25 foes before knocking off UCLA earlier this month, although they stayed close to then-No. 8 Stanford in a 31-28 road loss last year.
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The best way to erase the memory of a tough loss is to play your rival. The Cardinal have struggled in road games, failing to score an offensive touchdown away from Stanford Stadium. A win for the Bears would bring them to .500 and put them back in bowl contention.