The Big Game has rarely been staged under more unusual circumstances.
Stanford and host California take winless records into the annual Pac-12 rivalry Friday afternoon for the first time in the 128-year history of one of college football's greatest rivalries.
The game features Northern California neighbors who have suffered a combined four losses and three COVID-19-related cancellations in the first three weeks of the league schedule.
Cal (0-2) is playing at home for the first time this season after the Bears' scheduled opener against visiting Washington was called off.
After a second cancellation at Arizona State and a hastily scheduled 34-10 loss at UCLA in Week 2, the Bears saw a blocked punt turn into a late Oregon State touchdown in a 31-27 road defeat last week.
On a day when quarterback Chase Garbers improved from 122 passing yards and no touchdowns against UCLA to 315 yards and three TDs against the Beavers, the Bears floundered on special teams, having 89- and 94-yard kick returns by Nikko Remigio negated by penalties on top of the blocked punt and another 24-yard shank that set up Oregon State scores.
"Those are critical, critical errors," Cal coach Justin Wilcox assured afterward. "It's hard to overcome one of those, let alone six or seven."
In an attempt to retain "The Axe" after snapping a nine-game Stanford win streak in the series last year, Cal hopes to have top back Christopher Brown Jr. back Friday. He had to be scratched shortly before kickoff at Oregon State because a leg injury did not respond well to pregame warmups.
Garbers, Remigio and Brown all played key roles in a 24-20 win at Stanford last November in a matchup of teams that had won a total of nine games.
Brown scored Cal's first touchdown of the day on a 7-yard run, Remigio hauled in an 18-yard scoring pass from Garbers to forge a 17-all tie in the fourth quarter, and Garbers scampered in from 16 yards out for the game-winning TD with 1:19 to go.
Stanford (0-2) enters the Big Game unranked for just the fifth time in the last 12 editions. After losses at Oregon and at home against Colorado, the Cardinal saw their game against visiting Washington State canceled last week because of COVID-19 issues in the Cougars' program.
The Cardinal had two weeks to deal with their defensive problems. They've allowed 35 points in each of their losses and currently rank 11th in the Pac-12 in rushing defense (223.0 yards per game), sixth in passing defense (241.0) and eighth in total defense (464.0).
The Pac-12 gave Stanford the option of substituting a non-conference opponent for Washington State last week, but the Cardinal opted to use the extra time to get better prepared for Cal.
"I don't have a level of frustration," Stanford coach David Shaw said of the on-again, off-again nature of the season. "We knew this from the beginning. There was no way we could play an entire season without some form of disruption. Everyone knew this was a possibility."
--Field Level Media