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UCLA at Stanford is the Bay Area showdown to watch

CHRIS DUFRESNE / ON COLLEGE FOOTBALL

USC and Cal enter Saturday's games as flawed products. The fact that neither UCLA nor Stanford is ranked can be attributed to the usual: voters not paying attention.

October 03, 2009|CHRIS DUFRESNE | ON COLLEGE FOOTBALL

Tension mounts for the important Bay Area game featuring two three-win teams, a rookie quarterback, a quarterback named Kevin and one of the nation's leading rushers.

Everyone, except for Texas Tech Coach Mike Leach, is all atwitter.

USC at California?

OK, that one also features two three-win teams, a rookie quarterback, a quarterback named Kevin and one of the nation's leading rushers.

We were thinking UCLA at Stanford, which only days ago was unthinkable.

It's funny sometimes what happens when you play out the schedule.

USC at Cal on Oct. 3 has been circled on calendars for months as a possible pivot point in deciding this year's Bowl Championship Series title. And it still has implications. Trojans title hopes took a hit when they lost at unranked Washington two weeks ago, USC skidding from No. 3 to No. 12 in the polls.

However, four losses suffered by top-10 schools last weekend allowed USC to parlay a shaky win over Washington State into a five-spot jump back to No. 7.

Remember: How you win or lose in the BCS is often not as important as when.

Cal lost by 39 at Oregon and got trapdoor treatment in the Associated Press media poll, falling from No. 6 to 24.

USC and Cal enter Saturday's games as flawed products. USC has been hampered by injuries -- the latest to Stafon Johnson only the most freakish -- and lack of production by its offense.

Cal has been felled again by the big bad bear of expectations.

"The older guys who've been through it will talk to young guys and tell them to just forget about it," fourth-year junior quarterback Kevin Riley said of the latest rollback. "You learn from it, you move on. That's all that you can do."

Given that the Trojans and Bears started ranked No. 4 and No. 12 in the AP poll, the loser of Saturday's game instantly becomes one of this year's early flops.

By contrast, how many people even knew UCLA was playing at Stanford on the same day?

The Trojans and Bruins don't make a habit of sharing Bay Area playing quarters, although it's not unprecedented. On Nov. 4, 2006, the locals ventured north and switched dance partners. No. 9 USC routed Stanford, 42-0; No. 10 Cal beat the Bruins in Berkeley, 38-24.

This year, you could argue, UCLA at Stanford is the better game. UCLA is the Pacific 10 Conference's only undefeated team. Stanford is 2-0 in league and 3-1 overall, the Cardinal's defeat coming at Wake Forest in the last two seconds, the only two seconds Stanford has trailed all year.

USC and Cal have Big Ten road wins against Ohio State and Minnesota.

UCLA beat Tennessee, from the mighty Southeastern Conference, in Knoxville.

USC lost to Washington by three points. Stanford beat Washington by 20.

The fact that neither UCLA nor Stanford is ranked can be attributed to the usual: voters not paying attention.

If you had to pick a Bay Area venue on Saturday, though, which would it be?

* Stanford or Cal? Stanford is among the top private schools in the world, an incubator that hatched the inventors of Yahoo and Google. Cal is regarded as the No. 1 public university in the nation, maybe the world.

The recession has hit both schools hard, but not so much the coaches. At a cost of $50,000, Stanford Coach Jim Harbaugh recently had a bathroom built closer to his office. Cal Coach Jeff Tedford is reportedly the highest-paid employee in the UC system, yet his team will bus to this year's UCLA game to save money.

* West Bay or East Bay? Giants vs. Athletics, 49ers vs. Raiders, Golden State Warriors vs. . . . no factor in this discussion, but please keep sending us water.

* Palo Alto or Berkeley? Both claim vicinity bragging rights to San Francisco, although Cal is closer to Oakland. Times columnist Jim Murray once noted, "To cross the bridge and drive into San Francisco, you pay a dollar; to get over the bridge and go to Oakland, they let you go for free."

* The stadiums? Stanford Stadium is a 50,000-seat jewel since it was overhauled very quickly after the 2005 season. Cal's Memorial Stadium boasts one of the prettiest settings in college football, yet improvements to the edifice opened in 1923 seem to advance at glacial pace.

* The rookie quarterbacks? USC's Matt Barkley, a true freshman, will be making his third career start. Barkley has completed 43 of 71 passes this year with three touchdowns and one interception.

Stanford's Andrew Luck, a redshirt freshman who is the son of former Houston Oilers quarterback Oliver Luck, will face a stout UCLA defense. Luck's season line: 50 out of 83 passes completed with four touchdowns and two interceptions.

* Quarterbacks named Kevin? Cal's Riley gets the start against USC, with UCLA's Kevin Craft going against Stanford. Neither guy will remind you of Joe Kapp or Troy Aikman, although Craft did lead a game-winning touchdown drive to beat Stanford last year at the Rose Bowl.

* Best running back? Cal star Jahvid Best has been touted as a Heisman Trophy candidate, and rightfully so, although he was held to 55 yards in last weekend's loss to Oregon.

Best, though, isn't even the leading rusher in the Bay Area.

Stanford senior Toby Gerhart, a throwback to John Riggins, has been fogged over in the publicity department even though his 129-yards-a-game average ranks best in the Pac-10 and is No. 3 nationally.

Best's average of 116 yards ranks ninth.

Toby for Heisman?

"Well, yes, I believe so," Harbaugh, his coach, said.

UCLA at Stanford: Believe in it also.

--

chris.dufresne@latimes.com

twitter.com/DufresneLATimes

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