Dec. 1, 2006
BERKELEY, Calif. (AP) -Although T.C. Ostrander has been a backup quarterback for most of his career at Stanford, he has one area of serious expertise that should come in handy Saturday.
"I can't remember the last Big Game I didn't go to," he said.
Ostrander, the son of a former Stanford track and field star, was born at Stanford Medical Center and grew up just down the road from campus. He has dreamed of playing in the Cardinal's rivalry series against California since he was old enough to hold a football.
That dream came true in the last two years, but the experience wasn't everything he imagined. He made his second career start in the 2004 Big Game, going 8-for-26 in the Cardinal's blowout loss - and then he played well against Cal in place of injured starter Trent Edwards last season, but still didn't capture The Axe in another sound thumping.
In his third shot at the Big Game on Saturday, Ostrander knows the odds again are stacked against his woeful Cardinal (1-10, 1-7 Pac-10), who are struggling through one of the worst seasons in the program's proud history.
That doesn't stop him from dreaming of doing the improbable against the 21st-ranked Golden Bears (8-3, 6-2), who are playing only for bragging rights after a two-game losing streak that has bumped them into the Holiday Bowl.
"I've been around this game a long time, and I grasp what it means," said Ostrander, who will start in place of Edwards again. "It's the biggest game I've ever been around. It's not just football teams that are battling each other."
Across the field, Nate Longshore also understands the stakes. The Cal quarterback will be playing in his first Big Game, but has just as much motivation as a veteran of the experience such as Ostrander.
Despite strong statistics in his first year as the Bears' starter, Longshore was merely ordinary in their consecutive losses to Arizona and USC in their last two games. A victory in either contest probably would have sent Cal to its first Rose Bowl in 48 years, but instead the school's most disappointing drought has been extended.
Longshore struggled through a 17-of-38 performance with two interceptions against the Trojans, and failed to make any big throws while passing for 250 yards and throwing three more interceptions in a narrow loss to the Wildcats.
Though his first full college season has been a solid success, the quarterback knows he still hasn't matched the achievements of Aaron Rodgers, Kyle Boller and coach Jeff Tedford's quarterbacks before him. He's second in the Pac-10 behind USC's John David Booty with 22 touchdown passes, and his 233.5 yards passing per game are third in the conference.
The affable sophomore's teammates trust and respect him, but the Bears lost both of his highest-profile starts against Tennessee and the Trojans. They're headed to San Diego next month to play Texas A&M, but a Big Game victory would keep Cal unbeaten against Stanford in Tedford's five seasons.
"This obviously isn't the way we wanted to wrap up our season, but we've still got a lot of things to play for," Longshore said. "We've just got to focus on beating Stanford, because it's the biggest game of the Cal season during most seasons."
Longshore grew up in the San Fernando Valley, so he doesn't have Ostrander's genetic ties to the game.
The Stanford quarterback has played most of the Cardinal's last five games, including four starts in place of Edwards. Ostrander will be back next year, but given the uncertainties surrounding the Cardinal program, he isn't inclined to look past the opportunity in front of him on Saturday.
He still recalls the sounds and feelings of his first appearance in the Big Game two years ago, but he doesn't like to think about the result - a 41-6 loss at Memorial Stadium.
"I dreamed about it, but I never really told myself I'd be there," Ostrander said. "The atmosphere is pretty intense in the stands, but it's even bigger on the field. I think I've got some experience to deal with it now. You can't let the emotions of the Big Game cloud your head."