STANFORD, Calif. -- All Stanford had to do to keep the Axe out of California's grasp was put the ball in Christian McCaffrey's hands.
McCaffrey ran around and through the Cal defense on a 49-yard touchdown catch and also scored on a 98-yard kickoff return to help Stanford (No. 11 CFP, No. 15 AP) clinch a spot in the Pac-12 championship game by winning the Big Game 35-22 on Saturday night.
"If anybody has seen a running back, a football player better than Christian McCaffrey this year, tell me. Show him to me," Cardinal coach David Shaw said. "I haven't seen anybody in America like this kid. He's truly, truly special."
McCaffrey ran for 192 yards and gained a school-record 389 all-purpose yards in another highlight-reel performance that gave the Cardinal (9-2, 8-1) their sixth straight win over the Golden Bears (6-5, 3-5).
Remound Wright ran for two short touchdowns and Bryce Love added a 48-yard scoring run for Stanford, which clinched the Pac-12 North with the win. The Cardinal will play the winner of next week's game between UCLA and Southern California (No. 24 CFP, No. 22 AP) for the Pac-12 title on Dec. 5 in Santa Clara.
But before that, the Cardinal host Notre Dame (No. 4 CFP, No. 5 AP) next week in a game that could boost their playoff chances that looked dire after last week's loss to No. 23 Oregon.
Jared Goff threw for 386 yards and two touchdowns but the Bears settled for field goals three times in the red zone and fell short once again against their fiercest rival.
"A lot of missed opportunities," Goff said. "We're normally pretty good in the red zone but today we weren't. They played well defensively. Those were three scores that could have changed it."
McCaffrey was the biggest reason why, breaking Glyn Milburn's Stanford all-purpose record of 379 yards set in the 1990 Big Game.
McCaffrey has a school-record nine straight 100-yard rushing games, has topped 300 all-purpose yards four times this season and needs 444 all-purpose yards to break Barry Sanders' single-season FBS record of 3,250 set in 1988. With the Cardinal making the conference title game, McCaffrey will have at least three more games to break that mark.
"I'm not really focused on all the individual statistics right now or anything like that," McCaffrey said. "If that does happen, great. If not, I'm not focused on that right now."
Cal dominated the third quarter with two scoring drives and finally got into the end zone when Goff hit Darius Powe on a 3-yard pass that cut Stanford's lead to 21-16.
But the Cardinal responded after Cal gave them good field position with a short kickoff that kept the ball out of McCaffrey's hands. McCaffrey ran for 44 of the 61 yards on the TD drive that was capped by a 1-yard run by Wright, who has six touchdowns in the past two Big Games.
After Stanford stopped Cal on a fourth down, Love iced the game with his long run and ensured that the Cardinal would retain the coveted Axe for another year.
The game was especially meaningful to graduate transfer defensive lineman Brennan Scarlett, who spent his first four years at Cal before finishing his career with the Cardinal.
"It feels great," Scarlett said. "It's been a long time coming for me. I obviously never held the Axe. To be a part of this team and contribute to keeping the Axe is a huge deal."
Cal moved the ball well for much of the game but three times settled for field goals by Matt Anderson after getting inside the 20.
"We dropped a ball, missed a throw, just little miscues," coach Sonny Dykes said. "We had opportunities to make plays, we were just not quite good enough to do it. Just not enough finishing drives."
McCaffrey made the Bears pay by beating them with big plays.
On the first, he caught a screen pass from Kevin Hogan and broke a tackle behind the line. He broke more tackles while weaving his way through the overmatched Cal defense to give Stanford a 14-3 lead.
The Bears then cut the lead with a field goal with 51 seconds left but were unable to carry that good feeling into the half when McCaffrey ran back the ensuing kick untouched for another score.
No. 10 Penn St. looking to history to prep for No. 22 Auburn
— Most of the intelligence No. 10 Penn State has on its upcoming opponent was compiled long ago by the team’s video production staff. How much it’s worth now is up for debate.
Knight Commission proposes restructuring distribution of more than $3 billion in annual revenue generated by college sports
The Knight Commission released a proposal to require the NCAA, the College Football Playoff and Division I conferences to restructure how they distribute more than $3 billion in annual revenue.
Jefferson uses the chip on his shoulder as motivation
No. 20 Arkansas QB KJ Jefferson joins The Paul Finebaum Show to explain why the Razorbacks continue to work hard and how the Hogs are getting back to the basics.
Why the Penn State White Out game is so special
David Pollack calls the Penn State White Out game a top-three atmosphere in college football.
Urban Meyer dismisses USC coaching rumors
Urban Meyer shoots down USC coaching rumors and reaffirms his commitment to the Jaguars.
Week 3 college football best bets: Will Florida keep up with Alabama?
Top-ranked Alabama is a big favorite, even against the No. 11 Gators. Our experts provide their best bets for the third full week of college football action.