There will be major bowl implications for both teams this week as the California Golden Bears play host to the Washington State Cougars in a Pac-12 North showdown. Kickoff is at 7:00 EST on Saturday, November 9 at Memorial Stadium in Berkeley, California. Fans can catch all of the action on the Pac-12 Network.
According to our Week 11 betting odds, the Cougars are 7.5-point favorites on the road. The game also has an over/under of 51 points.
This isn’t the season Washington State envisioned coming off last year’s 11-2 campaign. But the Cougars have managed to turn things around following a three-game losing streak that began with an awful collapse against UCLA in a 67-63 loss. Wazzou halted their losing streak with a lopsided win over Colorado and then nearly pulled off an upset over Oregon two weekends ago.
As it stands, Mike Leach’s team is 4-4 heading down the stretch despite being just 1-4 in Pac-12 play. The Cougars are still in need of two wins in their final four games to reach a bowl game for the fifth straight season. All of Washington State’s remaining games are a coin-flip at worse, so a loss to Cal wouldn’t be the end of the world. But the Cougars would prefer not to fall below .500, so a road win this week would be big for their bowl hopes.
Meanwhile, it’s been a true tale of two seasons for the Golden Bears. Cal began the season 4-0 with wins over Washington and Ole Miss on the road, putting them in the top-25. But it’s been all downhill from there, as the Bears have lost four in a row following the loss of quarterback Chase Garbers to injury. In fairness, three of those losses have come by 10 points or less until their recent 35-0 loss to Utah. But that doesn’t change Cal’s situation, as they try to claim a bowl spot for the second straight season, something the Golden Bears haven’t done in a decade.
Just like Washington State, the Bears need two wins in their last four games to become bowl eligible. Cal will play their next two games at home against Washington State and USC before finishing the season with Stanford and UCLA on the road. Needless to say, that’s a tricky schedule, especially if the Golden Bears can’t hold serve at home this week.
The good news is that the Golden Bears have typically had Wazzou’s number in recent years. Cal has taken 11 of their last 14 meetings with the Cougars, although all three of WSU’s wins have come in the last six seasons. However, the Cougars have just one win in their last seven games against the Golden Bears in Northern California, including a 37-3 Cal win when Washington State visited Berkeley two years ago.
The 7.5-point spread is just begging you to take Cal and the points, but I’m not buying it. Yes, Cal has lost mostly close games during their four-game skid, but they’ve still been losses. The Golden Bears have a slim path to victory in this game, making an upset unlikely. That makes me feel confident that the Cougars can at least get some separation late in the game and cover the spread.
Despite the recent losing streak, Cal still has one of the best defenses in the Pac-12. Utah is the only team to top 24 points against the Golden Bears this season. Despite being 1-4, the Golden Bears are only conceding 23 points per game in conference play. They even held Oregon’s high-scoring offense to just 17 points. In other words, the Cal defense gives them a fighting chance in almost every game.
But if there’s one team that might be able to unlock the Cal defense, it would be the Cougars and Leach’s air-raid offense. Outside of Wazzou’s 38-13 loss to Utah a month ago, no team has been able to keep the WSU offense under wraps. Not surprisingly, the Cougars average the most passing yards per game behind Anthony Gordon, who has already thrown 32 touchdown passes this season. But the Cougars have also been a little more balanced than in past years. Running back Max Borghi is a legitimate threat, averaging over seven yards per carry. He’s also the team’s fourth-leading receiver, forcing teams to account for the WSU backfield.
On the other side of the field, the Cal offense has been atrocious since Garbers went down with an injury. Unless he makes a surprise return this week, there’s no reason to expect that to change. Backup Devon Modster missed the game against Utah but is available to play last week. Of course, he wasn’t playing particularly well prior to that, connecting on less than 50% of his passes. The Cal offensive line and rushing attack aren’t much help either, as the Bears have conceded 33 sacks and barely average three yards per carry on the ground.
No matter how bad the Washington State defense is, and they’re not great, the Golden Bears are averaging just over 10 points per game without Garbers. It would take a super-human effort from the Cal defense to limit the Washington State offense enough to keep the Bears within a touchdown. I’m not sure I see that happening, so I’ll eat the points and take the Cougars to cover 7.5 points on the road.