Don't be misled by the calendar, the weather or the weirdness of it all. This week's Big Game is no less important than those played on the traditional weekends in late November.
In fact, the early arrival makes Saturday's showdown more significant because it will influence a greater portion of each team's season.
Stanford and Cal are works in progress, searching for identity and trajectory. Everything's on the line in Berkeley -- from a shot at the conference title to one coach's job security to a host of postseason possibilities for both teams.
"A lot of times, when they play at the end of the year, you know the (bowl) spots down to one or two," said Gary Cavalli, the executive director of the San Francisco-based Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl who will be attending his 44th Big Game on Saturday.
"But right now, it's wide open. ... It's a crucial game for both teams."
After their wretched start, the Bears (3-4, 2-2) have won two in a row and are beginning to look like the team we expected to see all along.
A victory Saturday would validate their midseason turnaround and open a reasonable path to the postseason: The Bears would become bowl eligible by beating Utah (2-4) and Washington (3-3).
At the same time, a loss to Stanford would erase the Bears' momentum and put them in the situation they want to avoid: Having to beat No. 2 Oregon or No. 8 Oregon State to become bowl-eligible.
If the Bears miss the postseason -- for the second time in three years, no less -- the administration might feel compelled to take a long, hard look at coach Jeff Tedford's future.
"Cal's scrambling to get everything to fall into place, and it's hard to envision them doing that unless they win Saturday," Cavalli said. "They're trying to get somewhere, and Big Game is the key."
Stanford (4-2, 2-1) is also trying to get somewhere: The Rose Bowl.
Bitter as it was, the overtime loss at Notre Dame had no bearing on the No. 22 Cardinal's pursuit of the Pac-12 championship. Stanford controls its destiny: Run the table, and it wins the North.
But a loss in Berkeley -- especially if the loss involves more woeful offense -- would wipe away the last remnants of Stanford's early-season momentum.
The Cardinal would be one game over .500 with two cupcakes (Washington State and Colorado) and then a brutal finishing stretch: Oregon State, at Oregon, at UCLA.
Stanford could forget about another season of double-digit victories. Heck, eight wins would be a challenge at that point.
But the Big Game's early arrival brings more than enhanced significance. It also adds a layer of uncertainty to a game that's already difficult to project.
When the teams meet in late November, the coaching staffs have a season's worth of videotape stockpiled. They know what to expect from their team -- what works and doesn't work, how it responds to situations -- and they know what to expect from their archrival.
But this year?
"Both of us, at this point, are trying to be the team we want to be -- we're not there yet, we're both in the process," Stanford coach David Shaw said.
"There are things we're still experimenting with. That plays into it. It usually plays into other games at this time of year. It usually doesn't play into the Big Game."
School W L Overall
Oregon 3 0 6-0
Oregon St. 3 0 5-0
Stanford 1 1 4-2
Cal 2 2 3-3
Washington 1 2 3-3
Washington St. 0 4 2-5