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Bears need split for bowl game

The Cal football team's annual "Big Game" rivalry showdown is not its final chance to become bowl eligible.

The Golden Bears, who sit at 5-5 overall, host UCLA on November 24 at Memorial Stadium in Berkeley to close the regular season. Even if Stanford handles Cal on Saturday night at Stanford Stadium, Cal would finish with six wins with a victory over the Bruins.

Beating Stanford will be difficult, but Cal should be well-rested, coming off a bye week. Plus, the Golden Bears have shown a capability to be giant slayers against highly-ranked teams, beating Washington State 37-3 earlier this season.

"We knew coming into the season that we had to have a chip on our shoulders. Over the past couple of years, people have always doubted us," said senior linebacker Raymond Davison III, who was also a Cal player during the era of former coach Sonny Dykes. "With reason, I get it. But they're also not the ones on the inside putting in the work.

"We're going to get to six wins. We're going to find a way. We're going to find a way to get The Axe. I don't care if the score is 2-0."

With the way Stanford junior Bryce Love is running the football, a 2-0 score probably isn't feasible. Love hasn't completed a full practice in a month after suffering an ankle injury, but willed his way to 166 rushing yards and three touchdowns in an upset of Washington last week.

Cal, which had one of the nation's worst rushing defenses last year allowing six yards per carry, has improved markedly in that regard. But Love has been held to single-digit rushing yards only once.

"We've got to take advantage of this bye week," Golden Bears offensive coordinator Beau Baldwin said. "We've got to make it a weapon for us, because Stanford is going to be tough enough."

But the Golden Bears' Patrick Laird has huge potential, too. Laird, who started the reason as a third-string running back, had 33 carries for 214 yards and a touchdown as Cal beat last place Oregon State 37-23 before the bye week.

Sophomore quarterback Ross Bowers thrived as well, going 24 of 30 passing for 259 yards and two TDs.

Yet, the fact that Cal is in the hunt for the postseason is a testament to its toughness in the Wilcox era. Cal has seen season-ending injuries to 11 players, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, including veteran leaders in starting linebacker Devante Downs, receiver Demeris Robertson and running back Tre Watson. Robertson (a former five-star recruit) and Watson were supposed to be premier playmakers for the offense.

Instead, tailbacks Patrick Laird and Vic Enwere and receivers like Kanawai Noa have done more than fill in admirably, they've shined.

Cal focused on a wide range of beneficial activities during its bye week, including stretching, hydration and sleep.

"Getting into postseason play is obviously a goal of ours, but the only way that happens is if we have a great week of practice and go play our best," said Wilcox, formerly Wisconsin's defensive coordinator.

Last season, Stanford dropped 45 points on Cal as current Carolina Panthers tailback Christian McCaffrey amassed 284 rushing yards and three touchdowns. Love has the kind of potential for a massive game, too.

"I think we've played a lot of really good running backs this year, but this guy is special. He really is," Cal defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter said of Love. "He's a guy who has great vision and patience, and when there's a little crack, he explodes through the hole.

"The next thing you know, the officials are holding their hands up."

Even if Cal drops its final two games, it could potentially snag a bowl bid at 5-7 due to its strong Academic Progress Rate (APR).

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