Tra­di­tion takes cen­ter stage in league this week

San Francisco Chronicle Late Edition - - COLLEGE FOOTBALL - By Rusty Sim­mons Rusty Sim­mons is a San Fran­cisco Chron­i­cle staff writer. Email: rsim­mons@sfchron­i­cle.com Twit­ter: @Rusty_SFChron

With two weeks left in the Pac-12 reg­u­lar sea­son, USC has wrapped up the South Di­vi­sion’s spot in the con­fer­ence cham­pi­onship game, and the North won’t be de­cided un­til Washington and Washington State play Nov. 25.

That left Satur­day’s ri­valry game be­tween Cal and Stan­ford as a pop­u­lar topic dur­ing Tues­day’s con­fer­ence calls with the head coaches.

The teams are tak­ing de­cid­edly dif­fer­ent ap­proaches to the 120th Big Game.

The Bears are try­ing to avoid be­com­ing the first team in the his­tory of the ri­valry to lose eight straight times and are one win from earn­ing what would be a sur­pris­ing bowl berth.

“I think one of the great­est things about col­lege foot­ball is the ri­valry game,” Cal head coach Justin Wilcox said. “For the team, it’s about pre­par­ing and be­ing in the mo­ment, to­day, to­mor­row and through­out the week. That’s what gives you the best chance to win, but I ac­knowl­edge the pageantry of col­lege foot­ball and the his­tory. That’s re­ally cool.

“I want our fans, our stu­dent body and our univer­sity to en­joy it as much as they can, but I know for us, we just keep that fo­cus so sim­ple and small. We’re pre­par­ing to play good foot­ball.”

With a vic­tory Satur­day and a Washington win over Washington State in the Ap­ple Cup, the Car­di­nal would make their fourth ap­pear­ance in six sea­sons in the con­fer­ence cham­pi­onship.

“It sounds crazy, but that’s kind of sec­ondary,” Stan­ford head coach David Shaw said. “This is Big Game. This is about the axe. This is about our big­gest ri­val. (The Pac-12 cham­pi­onship) is great, but that kind of takes a sec­ond seat to a Bay Area tra­di­tion.”

The South has plenty of tra­di­tion, too. That will be on full dis­play Satur­day, when the top two quar­ter­backs on most draft boards go at it.

USC head coach Clay Hel­ton has a re­la­tion­ship with both, be­ing with the Tro­jans’ Sam Darnold on a day-to-day ba­sis and hav­ing known UCLA’s Josh Rosen since he played on his son’s Pop Warner team in the sev­enth grade.

“To be able to see him grow into the man that he’s be­come, and the player that he’s be­come, has been re­ally fun,” Hel­ton said. “Be­ing a quar­ter­back coach by trade, it’s been very, very unique to watch him grow up and be­come such a spe­cial player. … It’s neat to see guys play­ing at the high­est level, and Josh is do­ing that.” Other games: Ari­zona State plays at Ore­gon State on Satur­day. In their past two games, the Sun Devils have rushed for 675 yards, 41 per­cent of their sea­son to­tal. … Ari­zona plays at Ore­gon on Satur­day. The Ducks have lost four of five since Justin Her­bert broke his col­lar­bone in a win over Cal on Sept. 30, but head coach Wil­lie Tag­gart said the quar­ter­back has a good chance of re­turn­ing Satur­day. … Utah plays at Washington on Satur­day. The Huskies are com­ing off a loss at Stan­ford that dropped them nine spots to No. 18 in the Col­lege Foot­ball Play­off rank­ings. “Ev­ery­body in the con­fer­ence and ev­ery­body else around is throw­ing a party that we lost. That’s how it is. Ev­ery­body loves ev­ery­body else’s prob­lems,” head coach Chris Petersen said. … Colorado and Washington State have byes.

Mark J. Ter­rill / Associated Press

Justin Wilcox’s Cal team would earn a bowl bid with a vic­tory Satur­day.

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