Anything can happen when Cal and Stanford collide, they say, and The Play is the proof.

But "anything" never encountered something like 2013.

Cal's challenge Saturday at Stanford Stadium is the most daunting faced by either team in the history of the Big Game -- the equivalent of executing a six-lateral kickoff return.

The Bears are 311/2-point underdogs. That's not only a Big Game record, it's also 101/2 points more than the betting line for what's considered the greatest upset in rivalry history: Cal's 17-11 conquest in 1986 in Joe Kapp's final game as coach.

The Bears' only chance this week, it seems, is for Kapp to come out of retirement. Reached Monday, the Cal legend sounded eager for kickoff to arrive.

"Is it going to be easy? No," he said. "Stanford's brand is up, if that's what you want to call it. And here's Cal again -- the poor damned Bears.

"All I know is that both teams are well-coached and have as fine a tradition as you could possibly have. I'm looking forward to a great game."

Given that Stanford is one of the best teams in the country and Cal's one of the worst, we'd settle for decent.

The Bears haven't beaten a major college opponent in 13 months. The Cardinal hasn't lost at home in two years.

The Bears (1-10, 0-8 Pac-12) have nothing to play for except pride and the future. The Cardinal (8-2, 6-2) must win to keep its division title and Bowl Championship Series hopes alive.

But Cal's long odds are rooted in more than records, injuries, location and alignment of moon and stars. At its core, this is a colossal mismatch in style, substance and strength.

Stanford demolishes teams like Cal, using an overwhelming advantage along the offensive and defensive lines to pound opponents into submission.

The Bears have struggled to run the ball; the Cardinal's front seven is an immovable object.

The Bears cannot stop the run; the Cardinal's ground-and-pound attack is an irresistible force.

The Bears cannot protect the quarterback; the Cardinal's pass rush is a force of nature.

The intangibles (confidence, moxie, experience, resourcefulness) are indisputably in Stanford's favor.

Here's another way to assess the 116th Big Game:

The teams closest to Stanford in style and approach -- USC and Oregon State -- beat Cal by a combined 66 points.

The Cardinal is built to grind, not strike quickly. As hapless as Cal's defense has been, Stanford probably won't score 50 or 60 points.

We're likely to see a more lopsided version of the Cardinal's victory last year, a 21-3 smothering in which the Bears gained just 3 yards rushing.

Cal's only chance is to summon a performance for the ages, which seems impossible given its injuries and inexperience, and hope Stanford suffers from a USC hangover.

"You saddle up and do what you have to do to compete," Kapp said. "You don't know where the ball is going to bounce -- it doesn't come back to you like a basketball.

"That's the start of the unpredictable-ness of it all. You never know what's going to happen."

This year, we do.

For more on college sports, see Jon Wilner's College Hotline at blogs.mercurynews.com/collegesports. Contact him at jwilner@mercurynews.com or 408-920-5716.


Stanford Cardinal’s Ty Montgomery (7) runs with the ball against the Oregon Ducks in the second quarter at Stanford Stadium in Stanford, Calif. on
Stanford Cardinal's Ty Montgomery (7) runs with the ball against the Oregon Ducks in the second quarter at Stanford Stadium in Stanford, Calif. on Thursday, Nov. 7, 2013. ( Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group)