STANFORD, Calif. (AP) -Winning their first game at renovated Stanford Stadium was nice. Shocking Southern California and the Los Angeles Coliseum was a night that will not soon be forgotten in Stanford football lore.
For the Cardinal players, neither of those games would compare to the first win of their careers against arch rival California on Saturday.
``You always want to beat your rival so the Cal game is always the biggest game of the year,'' senior defensive lineman Udeme Udofia said this week. ``If you came into the season knowing you'd only win one game, you'd want your one win to be against Cal. It's a huge game for us.''
While this year's Big Game between the Golden Bears (6-5, 3-5 Pac-10) and Cardinal (3-8. 2-6) might be anything but for most of the country, it still resonated with the players involved.
Udofia, a fifth-year senior, has been at Stanford for five straight losses to Cal, matching the school's longest skid in a series that dates back to 1892.
Udofia said a victory over the Bears would be a ``program-changing win'' that would resonate in recruiting, attendance and other aspects of building a program.
It would also satisfy a fan base that has grown tired of playing second fiddle in the Bay Area.
``You hear about it all the time,'' running back Anthony Kimble said. ``For our student body, the biggest thing is are you going to beat Cal this year. It's a huge rivalry that our school gets really into. Everybody thinks about it, everybody knows about it. It would be huge for this program.''
For those involved, it would be bigger than the 24-23 upset of then-No. 2 and 41-point favorite Southern Cal on Oct. 6 that shook up the college football world.
But the Cardinal have been unable to capitalize on that game, winning just one of six games since.
What had potential to be a successful season at Stanford has become another losing one in Jim Harbaugh's first season as coach. The Cardinal have not had a winning record since Tyrone Willingham left to coach Notre Dame after the 2001 season, posting a 19-48 record the past six seasons.
``There's been some incredible highs and lows this season,'' Harbaugh said. ``We sure would have liked to have more wins than we have this season and since that USC win. We definitely have gotten closer and I can just identify with the way our guys play and how hard they play. We have to keep chipping away at it.''
This will be Harbaugh's first Big Game as a coach, although he witnessed two as a teenager when he was father was defensive coordinator for the Cardinal.
For a player who has played in some of football's most storied rivalries, like Michigan-Ohio State and Chicago Bears-Green Bay Packers, Harbaugh is looking forward to participating a new one.
``It has the feel of all of those type of big games,'' he said. ``It's a game that's on your mind. You prepare for it year round. I'm very excited and anticipate this game.''
Injuries have played a big role in Stanford's struggles this season. The Cardinal have lost seven starters to season-ending injuries, including running back Toby Gerhart, tight end Jim Dray, defensive tackle Ekom Udofia and offensive lineman Allen Smith.
There have many other injuries too, sidelining running backs Anthony Kimble and Jason Evans, cornerback Nick Sanchez among others.
But ending the season with a win against Cal would erase many of the bad memories from this season.
``It's all we have left so it has to,'' Sanchez said. ``Like I said before, we haven't won as many games this year as we wanted to, but getting The Axe back is what a lot of Stanford fans really care about. I think it would mean a lot to the team, the coaches and all the Stanford fans to win this game. It's a pretty big deal.''

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