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Cal Football

Bonfire of the Inanities

November 17, 2022

It should be the best week of the season. Bay Area bragging rights on the line, the 6th-most often played rivalry in college football. THE BIG GAME!

It’s not.

It’s the Disappointment Bowl this year.

Two 3-7 teams, the Eminently Moveable Object versus the Thoroughly Resistable Force.

Two fan bases that are used to trash talk and intense rivalry are having trouble even pretending this week.

California Memorial Stadium (it’s back to the original name now that all vestiges of the FTX era have been scrubbed from the field) holds 63,000. The closest Cal has come to filling it this season was a crowd of 38,180 vs. UNLV.  While 60,000 may come to tailgates Saturday, I would be shocked if more than 40,000 people actually show up for the game.

Two inept offenses go against each other in this contest. Cal ranks 10th in the conference with 362 yards per game. Stanford ranks 11th with 357 yards per game. In last place, you ask? The Colorado Buffaloes, who beat Cal in overtime, with 299 yards of offense per contest.

Stanford holds an edge in rushing with 110.6 yd/game. The WORST rushing offense in the league, by quite a bit? California, with 97.9 yards averaged each week.

That number becomes even more disturbing when you remove Jaydn Ott’s stellar 274-yard game against Arizona. Cal has racked up 705 total rushing yards minus that one-game performance, averaging fewer than 80 yards per game in their other 9 contests.

Stanford’s nearly 111 yards is even more shocking when you consider last week they started a strong safety at running back. Injuries have not decimated the Cardinal rushing corps; they have eliminated it.

Both schools pride themselves on continuity in their coaching staffs. Stanford head coach David Shaw has been with the school 16 years, and there was zero turnover in his staff over the offseason. Stanford, with its restrictive policies on early entry and transfer students, has been particularly hamstrung in the use of the transfer portal, college football’s new silver bullet.

Justin Wilcox, in his 6th year at Cal, had never had personnel turnover during the season, either. Until this week. Angus McClure and Bill Musgrove, offensive line coach and offensive coordinator, respectively, were invited to fall on their swords Monday. Their contributions were deemed so replaceable, Cal is not filling either position for the remaining two games; rather, they are adding those duties to the existing remaining staff. At least that’s the public explanation as it seems that offensive consultant Steve Greatwood will in actuality take over the line the final two weeks.

Shaw is possibly on the hot seat. At least one national publication has him among the six most likely coaches to be in that position; Athletic Director Bernard Muir has shown remarkable patience in understanding the difficulty of maintaining a steady pipeline of top recruits to a school that is academics-forward, notably with basketball coaches Johnny Dawkins and now Jerrod Haase.

Wilcox, on the other hand, almost certainly is NOT on the hot seat – if only because Cal simply can’t afford the electric bill to heat that seat right now. Wilcox has several years left on a lucrative contract, and Cal is scurrying to try to replace the long-term naming rights deal FTX signed just a year ago, since that company (and its advertising budget) no longer exist. I see no evidence of a block of alumni willing to fund a buyout and a replacement coach, so it is going to be more of the same for a while yet.

Cal ranks 89th nationally in total offense and 104th in total defense, while landing 97th overall in total scoring at 23.2 points per game. The defense has allowed 289.4 yards passing per game, which is 6th-from-the-bottom in the entire FBS. On the bright(er) side, Cal has allowed just 131.7 yards rushing per game, ranking 41st nationally in that statistic, and they have the 16th-best turnover rate in college football at +7.

Stanford’s defense has been a bottom-25 unit all season, currently allowing 436.5 yards per game, 21st-worst in the land. Their defense has allowed 32.4 points per game, and their turnover margin is -12.

Expect the unexpected. First off, it’s the Big Game, so the unexpected is de rigeur. It’s also the 40th anniversary of The Play, so expect to see ceremony around that event.

You have two highly frustrated offenses going against two fairly porous defenses. It could devolve into a punting festival, wherein Stanford kicker Joshua Karty, one of only eight kickers in the nation not to have missed a field goal this season, might pull off an upset for the Cardinal.

Or, it could turn into an offensive spree for either of these teams if they get an early lead and then grab a turnover – neither team has been particularly successful in coming from behind  TO WIN games this year, although comebacks have kept some games interesting.

Cal is a 5.5 point favorite, and the over/under is set at 45.5 points, meaning the gamblers are seeing a 26-20 Cal victory. I’m not a betting person, and I would not take MY advice even if I were, but something tells me this is a good time to bet the under – it feels like the offenses are just a little more inept than the defenses on these teams.

Stanford QB Tanner McKee has passed for more than 2000 yards for the second consecutive season, making him the 9th QB in program history to do so. His favorite target this season has been WR Elijah Higgins (#6, brother of Cal CB Kaleb Higgins) with 44 balls for 558 yards and one touchdown. Higgins has caught 7 passes in a game twice this season, most recently against Utah. With EJ Smith, Casey Filkins and basically the rest of the running back room injured, former strong safety Mitch Leigber got the start against Utah and had 12 carries for 40 yards.

Kickoff is at 2:30 in Strawberry Canyon. The game is televised on Pac-12 Network with Roxy Bernstein and Lincoln Kennedy mikeside.

Discussion from...

Bonfire of the Inanities

2,545 Views | 3 Replies | Last: 1 yr ago by HateRed
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Apparently this writer doesn't understand that the Big Game is almost sold out. Unless I'm looking at the stadium map wrong. Plus, I've heard it's almost sold out. This is the type of attitude that lessens the importance of Big Game. If this is your attitude, then don't go to the game.
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Nice clone modification of Tom Wolfe's "Bonfire of the Vanities". My favorite piece by Wolfe was the essay, "Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers", on the race hustlers who fleeced the bureaucrats of the San Francisco Poverty Program back in the day.
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I got all that. But, he shouldn't go to the game.
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