BERKELEY, Calif. (AP) -Unless Stanford wins the 111th Big Game, the Cardinal will finish the season with their seventh straight losing record. Only a victory at California can propel the Cardinal into their first bowl game since 2001 and return them to a measure of equality in their biggest rivalry.
Yet the Golden Bears believe they've got even more at stake when Stanford visits Memorial Stadium on Saturday.
Although Cal (6-4, 4-3 Pac-10) already is bound for its sixth straight bowl appearance, linebacker Worrell Williams is aware many people think the program is on a plateau - because some of those people include his friends and family. If Cal hopes to avoid the stigma of being a program in decline, it needs another win in Strawberry Canyon.
``We can still have one of those great seasons that people expect out of Cal, but we've got to win this game,'' Williams said. ``It's big for them with the bowl game riding on it, but that doesn't matter to us. We want the Axe back for our own reasons.''
rs, who are just 8-10 since last year's 5-0 start and No. 2 national ranking. Coach Jeff Tedford had never lost to his school's archrival until 2007, and his five wins over Stanford are more than any Cal boss other than Pappy Waldorf, who won six Big Games.
The Bears claim they never took Stanford (5-6, 4-4) for granted, even when the Cardinal were floundering under coaches Buddy Teevens and Walt Harris - but coach Jim Harbaugh's rising squad unquestionably has Cal's attention.
``We have something to lose now,'' Williams said. ``There's a lot of tradition riding on it. You really have to be in it to understand the rivalry. ... Last year just made it better. Now you're starting to respect your opponent a little more because they're making some noise. To lose the Axe, it was dramatic.''
Berkeley will be packed with avid fans during the only weekend in which college football takes on primary importance in the Bay Area. Cal is looking to get back on track after narrow back-to-back road losses to USC and Oregon State that knocked the Bears out of the Pac-10 title race, while Stanford's defense is in a bit of disarray after giving up 80 points in consecutive losses to Oregon and the Trojans.
g their entire stint on the Farm.
``A couple of players said they felt like their college career was worth something after that,'' said tailback Toby Gerhart, Stanford's first 1,000-yard rusher since Tommy Vardell in 1991. ``There's just so much pride and joy that comes with possessing the Axe, both for our team and the community.''
While Gerhart made history by crossing 1,000 yards last week, Cal has had a 1,000-yard rusher in each of Tedford's first six seasons. Tailback Jahvid Best is well within range to extend that streak, with 882 yards rushing and two games remaining.
Best is among the young Cal stars who were stung by last season's loss to Stanford. The Bears' lack of team-wide leadership was exposed during last season's skid, but Tedford believes Best, quarterback Kevin Riley and Cal's group of senior linebackers have solved that problem, as evidenced during a week of spirited practices in Berkeley.
``No matter what you say to them, it doesn't mean anything until they have an investment in it,'' Tedford said. ``It comes from working hard and developing a history and a stake in the game. The seniors or upperclassmen can probably appreciate the traditions better.''
re second in the nation with 18 interceptions.
But Cal played good defense in last year's Big Game, and still lost. Tedford knows he'll need something special to beat an opponent with so much to gain from reclaiming charge of this still-lively rivalry.
``This week is different than it's been since our staff's first year here,'' Tedford said. ``We don't have the Axe. There are some key seniors, especially on defense, that will probably have something to say. You always hope people will grab the torch and move on with it.''
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