Briefly, an explanation: I will be doing these pseudo-previews before every Oregon game this year. As you may notice, they are not your typical previews.
Because you can already find dozens of those. I’m more interested in the traditions, emotions, and history that makes college football a unique sport. If you’re only using fan-hood for a team to root for, you will be disappointed. Again and again. Soak in the experience of every game day, because your team may never win a title. Ah, welcome to Cal week. For those of us on campus in Eugene, this will be the first home game of the season! Even though we were hoping for another opening weekend with ESPN’s College GameDay on campus, Saturday should be a lot of fun (as long as we win and Justin Herbert doesn’t get injured this time—but more on that later).
Quick-and-dirty game preview
Although unranked, Cal started their season impressively, jumping out to a 4-0 record that included road wins at Washington and Ole Miss. Although they lost a close one to Arizona State last week, Justin Wilcox and Co. can take pride in the fact that they would definitely still be ranked if they were in the SEC.
Cal will be without starting quarterback Chase Garbers, who suffered a long-term injury to his throwing arm in the loss against ASU last Friday. Garbers had a Quarterback Rating of 148.1 on the season. His backup, Devon Modster, mustered a QBR of 48.5 in the remainder of the ASU game, which tells you all you really need to know about Cal’s offense right now. Oregon’s defense is the best in the Pac-12 so far. Cal will have to get real creative offensively. Justin Herbert has been doing work offensively, too, and the Ducks will have their entire starting line intact with Jake Hanson returning from injury. They will also receive a big boost at wide receiver with Mycah Pittman and Brenden Schooler coming back. In short, the Ducks should be able to dominate both sides of the ball.
Why can’t we be enemies?
The yearly game between Oregon and California is not as intense as one might expect. Yes, these teams have a history that goes back 120 years. Yes, the two states share a geographic border. Yes, they have both been in the national spotlight at some point in the last two decades. Both programs maintain active rivalries with other programs, too. Any seasoned Duck fan will tell you Oregon has two undisputed “rivals”: Oregon State and Washington. The relevance of these two changes as each program goes through its relative ups and downs, but generally speaking, the Civil War with OSU and the rivalry with the Huskies are the two most heated matchups on and off the field.
So why are Oregon and Cal not rivals? (Or even Oregon and Stanford, for that matter?) The lack of hate between these two is as confusing as the touchback rule. The simple explanation would be that “Cal has no fans.” There is definitely considerably less enthusiasm concerning college sports in the San Francisco Bay Area compared to other areas of the nation.
While I couldn’t find the exact numbers, UO is almost evenly split between in-state and out-of-state students. I’d guess that probably 30% of all students at UO are from California. Of these, at least a quarter are from the Bay Area. Anyone who’s attended UO in the past few years will attest to the disgustingly large amount of Warriors jerseys on campus. These Ducks have migrated from the Bay and are some of the most vocal sports fans at the university, yet the same students cite the Bay colleges as having virtually no buzz for their biggest athletic programs. Simply put, to everyone from the state of California, Cal isn’t even “Cal”—it’s “Berkeley.”
One source (my former dorm roommate Zack) indicated that this is due to the large number of alumni that leave for graduate schools, explaining further that Stanford and Cal don’t look to generate student interest in sports, whereas athletics are a more important part of Oregon’s national brand. This oddity is emphasized when considering Stanford and Cal have earned national attention on the gridiron. Stanford’s spotlight appeared through their yearly conference joust against the Ducks, as I explored a couple of weeks ago. Cal’s came in the mid-2000s, led by Jeff Tedford, who took a struggling program to seven straight bowl games from 2003-2009, including two 10-win seasons.
A quick history lesson
Interestingly enough, Tedford’s excellent run was probably ended by the Ducks, almost exactly 10 years ago. A sixth-ranked Cal came into Autzen to face first-year head coach Chip Kelly‘s unranked Ducks. The Golden Bears had Heisman candidate RB Jahvid Best and Oregon native QB Kevin Riley on hand, but the Oregon defense allowed only 178 yards between the two. The Ducks rattled off 42 straight points and dashed Cal’s national aspirations before October.
This was the last time Cal was ranked in the top 10.
Even this legendary beatdown wasn’t enough to stoke the competition. Since then, Oregon’s only loss to Cal was the tragic double-overtime defeat in which a freshman Justin Herbert threw six touchdown passes and still lost. Other notable games in the last decade include:
- Cal giving Oregon’s undefeated season a scare in 2010
- Oregon’s 55-16 downpour in 2013
- Marcus Mariota‘s 326 yards and 5 TDs at Levi’s Stadium in 2014
Another thing to note: that 2010 matchup was the only game against Cal after 2008 in which the Ducks scored less than 42 points.
Overall, “the Cal Game” is always something to get excited about, simply because it’s another football game. And football is fun, even when the two teams don’t hate each other. It’s a chance to gather and perform our game day rituals together. Not only does it remind us that we are football fans, but that we are a family. If you’re not in it for the screaming, hugging, and crying….then maybe you should move to the Bay Area, where you can take classes without caring about football. Oregon should win this game. The Ducks are 18.5-point favorites entering Friday night. This team has aspirations that require success way beyond this matchup. I think the Ducks win and cover this spread comfortably in front of a raucous home crowd. Go Ducks!