Tradition takes center stage in league this week
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.
Justin Wilcox’s Cal team would earn a bowl bid with a victory Saturday.