The Big Game is now set to take place at Noon PST on Saturday 12/1 after being postponed by the wildfires in California, and funny enough, the new Vegas point spread is the same as the original one, giving (-2 ½) points to the Stanford Cardinal.
That’s probably because each team held serve in its interim contest, with Stanford out-lasting UCLA at the Rose Bowl while the Cal Golden Bears jumped off to a 21-0 lead after the 1st quarter in a solid win over visiting Colorado. The Bear defense intercepted CU quarterback Steven Montez 3 times.
But although the point spread has not been much affected by a 2-week delay, the Over/Under total is likely to expand from its conservative (45) line from back when book-makers thought the Big Game would kick off on Rivalry Weekend.
That’s because Stanford and California combined for 82 points on 11/24. While Cal’s Chase Garbers had a quiet day against the Buffaloes, the Bear defense was so dominant in the early-going that he didn’t need to zing passes downfield all day. Cardinal QB K.J. Costello, meanwhile, was pushed by a prolific high-tempo attack from the UCLA Bruins, and answered with a 5-touchdown performance.
Since the spread hasn’t changed after all of the upheaval (and since my recommended pick for the Big Game involves a wager ATS), we’ll leave our handicap like it is – based on a 10-game sample size instead of 11 games from each side.
But watch that O/U total. Betting sites may overreact to last week’s offensive fireworks on behalf of Stanford against a still-transitioning UCLA defense. That could lead to a Tuesday O/U line in the 50s…and potential value on the under.
Who: Stanford Cardinal at California Golden Bears
When: Saturday, December 1st, 3 PM EST
Where: California Memorial Stadium, Berkeley, CA
Lines: Stanford (-2.5) at Cal (+2.5) / O/U Total: (Pending)
When Stanford roared from 3 scores down to beat Oregon in Eugene on September 22nd, it seemed that the Cardinal was poised for a tremendous stretch run. Instead, the comeback win proved to be the team’s last hurrah as a New Year’s Six contender in 2018-19.
Head coach David Shaw’s team played well in the 1st half of a showdown with Notre Dame in South Bend the following weekend, but badly lost the 4th quarter as the Fighting Irish prevailed 38-17. Since then, Stanford has lost to Utah, Washington, and Mike Leach’s Nintendo-ball Washington State Cougars.
Tailback Bryce Love was considered a Heisman candidate before the season began, but has been rattled by injuries throughout the year. He did not run at all in the 19-point loss to Utah, and has not produced a 100-yard rushing day since a September win over USC.
Meanwhile, the Cardinal has done little on defense to back up the bookies’ conceit that this Saturday’s rivalry scrum will be a low-scoring slobber-knocker. Playing at home against Washington State, Stanford’s defense contained the WSU ground game to a paltry 3.1 yards per carry, but allowed a 40-of-50 passing effort from Gardner Minshew, who finished the game with 400+ yards and 3 TDs.
Against Washington 2 games ago it was a mirror-image of woe. Stanford was able to challenge the powerful Huskies, only losing by 4 points in the end. But while the defense held veteran Jake Browning to less than 200 yards through the air, Myles Gaskin ran wild for 5+ yards per attempt and staked UW to a 21-0 halftime lead that the team would not relinquish.
The Golden Bears’ 2018 season has been a model of perseverance. Cal looked like a cupcake in mid-season after losing to Arizona, quarterback Brandon McLlwain tossing 3 interceptions. The low point came the in the contest to follow, a 37-7 loss to UCLA in which unheralded Bruin tailback Joshua Kelly raced for 150+ yards and 3 touchdowns.
Cut to mid-November, and the Golden Bears are hot. A 49-10 “get well” win over Oregon State was followed by a tremendous show of defense against Chris Petersen’s Huskies as Cal upset Washington 12-10. The following weekend, California held Washington State to just 19 points as the video-game experts from Pullman were forced to play real football for 4 quarters, barely squeaking by the Bears 19-13.
Finally, the Bears whipped J.T. Daniels and Southern Cal 15-14 on November 10th, forcing 3 fumbles as LB Evan Weaver and big junior DE Luc Bequette combined for 4 sacks.
Frosh QB Chase Garbers took over the Cal offense in earnest in October, and has thrown only 1 interception in the past 4 games while contributing to a rushing attack that is averaging a reasonably-healthy 4.4 yards per carry.
Cal will need to contain Stanford’s receivers on the outside and try to make K.J. Costello uncomfortable in the pocket. David Shaw is probably sick of trying to run the ball early in games to tamp down the opposing pass rush, and is just as likely to turn Costello loose in the 1st half trying to soften up the Bears’ coverages on the outside.
But in my opinion, the momentum won’t be as apt to swing when Stanford has the football as when Cal owns the egg. The Bears have proven that no running game is likely to dominate them, and no passing game will run them out of California Memorial Stadium.
Stanford, meanwhile, has struggled to deal with nimble dual-threats like Garbers, and the Cardinal offense has been prone to accident against strong defenses. Costello tossed 2 picks in the dreary loss to Utah, has double-digit interceptions on the year, and has been sacked 17 times.
I’m going with California all the way. Since the Bears are no strangers to 1 and 2-point games, the point spread is a wise wager on which to take the hosts.
But remember also, a moneyline bet on Cal comes with increased payout and extra fun cheering on the team in the 4th quarter…assuming your name isn’t John Elway.
Pick the California Golden Bears to cover (+2 ½) or on the moneyline this Saturday.