The sun is shining, the days are warm and No. 22 Stanford and Cal still have half a season left to play entering the 115th edition of the Big Game rivalry.
If the timing seems strange, that’s because it is.
In the first of what is expected to be at least one Pac-12 Conference rivalry moved from its normal date some years because of the expanded league’s squeezed schedule, the Bay Area schools will meet at remodeled Memorial Stadium on Saturday under an odd October sky. The teams traditionally play the final conference game against each other — if not the last game altogether.
Stanford coach David Shaw and Cal’s Jeff Tedford both said preparing for each other so soon seems a little awkward. Each program’s athletic director denounced the date when it was announced. And almost every player, particularly the upperclassmen, admitted the schedule seems out of sorts.
“I don’t like it,” Shaw said. “I think it’s weird. I think it’s different.”
As much as the schools and conference tried, the atypical timing of this season’s Big Game couldn’t be avoided.
The Pac-12 championship, which began last season when the league added Colorado and Utah, takes up the first weekend of December — a date often used for rivalry games. The conference’s landmark TV deal, worth about $3 billion, added more Thursday night games. And per league policy, teams must have a bye week the Saturday before Thursday night games.
The result left Stanford (4-2, 2-1) and Cal (3-4, 2-2) with three options: play on Thanksgiving weekend, which both rejected, citing concerns about midweek festivities during the holiday. The second was to play the Saturday before Thanksgiving, which member athletic directors shot down, saying that would strain other parts of the league schedule. And the third was to play Oct. 20, which athletic directors who make the schedule formed a majority to force the schools to accept.
“We’re going to prepare and we’re going to play. There’s nothing I can do about it,” Tedford said. “But it’s a little bit awkward, because you normally play your traditional rival at the end of the year.”
Sometimes the result will affect bowl eligibility. Other times even save a coach’s or quarterback’s job. Mostly, though, it’s about bragging rights all winter. This year?
“Right now, it’s kind of weird,” Stanford senior linebacker Chase Thomas said. “It’s October, it’s still warm outside.”
Adding to the oddness of the October matchup, the game will also be the first at Memorial Stadium since Cal’s long-time home underwent a $321 million seismic retrofit and renovation.
In a series that dates back to 1892, the schools have played on both campuses and in San Francisco. They’ve never played in October — until Saturday.
“It doesn’t matter when it is or where it is,” Shaw said. “We’ll be up for it.”