Stanford is looking at a tough schedule coming into the season, matching up with the likes of fifth-ranked Oregon. Their toughest challenge, however, should be their Week 3 game against AP preseason No. 1 USC.
USC has all of the makings of a powerhouse this season. They have a star quarterback in Matt Barkley, a great set of receivers, an impressive backfield and a solid defense to back it all up.
Still, Stanford is also ranked in the preseason and will have to win this game, or their matchup with Oregon, in order to compete for the Pac-12 Championship.
This article will go through the seven keys that Stanford must follow to win their Week 3 matchup with USC.
After losing Andrew Luck to the NFL draft, Stanford is obviously going to have a dip in production from the quarterback position.
Still, the Cardinal is going to have to get a lot of production out of Josh Nunes, who was named the starter last week.
While Stanford will be able to manage the game with their solid running attack against most teams, USC will be different. It will be almost impossible to beat the Trojans without putting up a good amount of points, since Stanford will not shut down the likes of Matt Barkley.
Its unrealistic to expect that Josh Nunes is going to turn into Andrew Luck or Matt Barkley, but the Cardinal will need to get good production out of him if they want any chance of winning this game.
This may be one of the easier steps for this Stanford team which is deep and talented along the defensive line.
The Cardinal has several good players, but defensive end Ben Gardner should be the player to watch in this game. Last season he had 4.5 sacks and 10 tackles for loss and was named to the Second Team All Pac-12.
It will be essential for the Cardinal to get to Matt Barkley because he will shred their secondary if given time to do so. He has shown that he has the ability to put up big passing numbers, and the Stanford secondary has yet to prove that it can limit a star quarterback on its own.
If Stanford's defense wants to have any success at all, they will need to put pressure on Barkley.
USC has possibly the most dangerous one-two punch at receiver in the country with both Robert Woods and Marqise Lee lining up for them.
Last season Lee had 73 receptions for 1,143 yards and 11 touchdowns. Woods, meanwhile, had 111 receptions for 1,292 yards and 15 touchdowns.
Either of those players would be stars for any team in the country, but instead they are sharing the field at USC. Since they are both so dangerous, they will pose a huge threat to Stanford.
Unfortunately for Stanford, cornerback isn't their strongest position. They are planning on relying on two juniors and two sophomores who have a combined 15 games of starting experience between them.
Hopefully the Stanford line will be able to put a lot of pressure on Barkley and force him to make bad throws, but this inexperienced defensive backfield will have to step up big time to hold both of these threats and subdue a scary offense.
Last season, Stanford ranked first in the Pac-12 in kickoff return coverage, only allowing an average of 46.3 yards per game. They also were also solid in kickoff returns, where they averaged 21.8 yards per return, as well as punt returns where they only allowed an average of 10.0 yards per return.
Stanford will need to win the field-positioning battle in their game against USC because that would give their offense less room to travel and it would give their defense a bigger margin of error, which is something that they will definitely need.
Field-positioning is a pretty basic thing, but it could end up making the difference for Stanford in a close game.
As most football fans know, games are won and lost on the turnover margin, and most upsets are due to careless turnovers by the better team.
Because of that, Stanford will need to force turnovers to win their game against USC while managing to not lose the ball themselves.
The bad news for the Cardinal is that Matt Barkley doesn't turn the ball over much. Last season he only threw seven interceptions, while passing for 39 touchdowns and 3,528 yards.
Hopefully the Stanford defense will be able to force a few fumbles, and perhaps Penn State transfer RB Silas Redd will be able to help the Cardinal considering the fact that he lost a ball on the first play of USC's scrimmage last Sunday.
Stepfan Taylor showed Stanford fans last season that he can be the go-to guy for the Cardinal by rushing for 1,330 yards and 10 touchdowns last year.
In the game against USC in Week 3, he will have to be at his best.
Last season's game against USC, Taylor rushed for 99 yards and two touchdowns. This year, he will have to do better because the team will need him to control the pace of the game and keep Matt Barkley from getting the ball too often.
Stanford could also use a few touchdowns from Stepfan in this game, like they got last season. If he is able to come through with two or three scoring plays on the game, then Josh Nunes will not have to perform quite as well as he would have to otherwise.
The most important thing Stepfan Taylor has to do in this game is control the pace, but any extra big plays would be much appreciated.
Simply put, Stanford is going to have to get a little lucky in this game.
Some big play will have to happen that benefits Stanford, maybe a tipped pass or a fumble rolling right to a defender.
Also, they will probably have to catch Matt Barkley or the defense on a bad day. If one of the two is not playing well, then there is a chance that Stanford can steal this game.
Unfortunately, Stanford simply cannot keep Barkley and the Trojan offense from putting up a lot of points, nor can they score enough points on the Trojan defense to keep up.
It's an unfortunate truth, but still a truth nonetheless.