Despite the fact that the USC Trojans are one of the most formidable teams in college football and Stanford is still trying to prove itself without Andrew Luck, there could end up being a lot more parity in this matchup than we thought.
USC may be the No. 2 team in the nation, and No. 21 Stanford may have had an opening-week scare against San Jose State, but it boils down to this: USC has lost its last three matchups against Stanford, and especially on the road, this one isn't going to be easy.
It could come down to how much USC's offense has truly improved given the addition of Silas Redd or how much Standford's has regressed without Luck.
However it ends, though, this will be the first real test of 2012 for both teams, and it should teach us a lot about how tough each of them is.
Where: Stanford Stadium, Palo Alto, Calif.
When: Saturday, September 15, at 7:30 p.m. ET
According to OddsShark, USC is the nine-point favorite over Stanford, which is a bit of a surprise, only because the Trojans are playing on the road in their first Pac-12 matchup of the season.
But it just goes to show how much faith there is in this Trojans team, which has taken down its first two opponents by a combined score of 91-39.
It also goes to show how little history matters when it comes to the spread: USC may have lost to the Cardinal three straight times, but that was when the Cardinal had the best quarterback in the nation in Andrew Luck.
Now, the Trojans are arguably the ones with the nation's top QB. Matt Barkley's offense may be on the road this week for the first time, but it has been unstoppable thus far.
No reason to think it'll be any different at Stanford Stadium.
OddsShark has the over/under at 57.5, which is no shocker: Each of these teams has looked offensively explosive in the first couple of weeks of the season.
Well, maybe not Stanford as much as USC.
Though the Cardinal laid a 50-13 beating on Duke last week, they kicked off the season with a slim, 20-17 win over San Jose State. At times, this offense has cruised, and the defense has been solid; at others, both units have been mediocre.
The Trojans, on the other hand, have had absolutely no problem putting up the big numbers this season—no surprise, given the fact that Barkley threw 39 touchdowns last season. (He already has 10 in two games this season.) With the addition of Redd, one of the top running backs in the country, the USC offense is even more complete than it was a year ago.
There's no doubt that there will be a ton of points scored on Saturday. The only question will be which team is scoring them.
USC Injury Report (via USAToday.com)
- Cornerback Brian Baucham (concussion) is questionable for Saturday's game.
- Center Khaled Holmes (leg) is questionable for Saturday's game.
- Defensive end Wes Horton is questionable after sustaining an undisclosed injury.
- Tight end Christian Thomas (hip) has been out for two weeks and is questionable for Saturday.
- Defensive end Devon Kennard (pectoral) is out indefinitely.
- Defensive end DeVante Wilson (knee) is out for the season with a torn ACL.
Stanford Injury Report (via USAToday.com)
- Fullback Ryan Hewitt (ankle) is probable for Saturday's game.
- Fullback Geoff Meinken (knee) is out until at least mid-October.
- Tackle Cole Underwood (knee) is out for the season.
Will USC end up in the BCS championship at the end of the season?
Basically, USC has a spot in the national-championship game until it loses. After that, if someone else in the top three or four falters—a team like Alabama or LSU—it still could have a shot. But right now, an opportunity to vie for the BCS championship is the Trojans' to lose.
Which is why this first Pac-12 road matchup is even more significant.
Stanford is a team USC should beat, even away from its home turf, so a victory here could solidify what we already think we know about the Trojans.
The Cardinal, meanwhile, have been a bit of a surprise this season. You always have to factor in a dropoff in production when a team loses one of the best quarterbacks in the history of the program, but so far, Stanford has been just fine with Josh Nunes at the helm.
But Nunes hasn't been tested. Right now, the Cardinal may look like a team that can compete for an upper-tier bowl game, but we'll see if we're singing the same tune on Sunday morning.
Keys for USC
The Trojans need to keep doing the same exact thing they've been doing the first two weeks of the season: score and try not to suffer any defensive lapses.
And even though Redd is the secret weapon heading into this matchup—the one weapon the Trojans have now that they didn't have the last time these two teams met—he won't be the focus. The focus will be on the passing game, which accounted for six touchdowns. Not six touchdowns overall—six touchdowns alone against Syracuse last weekend.
Junior wideout Robert Woods caught two TDs against the Orange, and sophomore Marqise Lee caught three. Stanford's defense, against Duke, allowed a whopping 358 passing yards last Saturday.
Looking at those numbers, USC's game plan should be pretty clear.
Keys for Stanford
Obviously, a big part of Saturday's game is going to come down to the secondary. Allowing 350-plus yards to an offensively inept team is certainly not a good sign the week before facing one of the most prolific offenses in the college ranks.
But assuming the Cardinal secondary doesn't miraculously restore itself in the week in between Duke and USC, it will really come down to Nunes' ability (or lack thereof) to keep up with Barkley.
In Week 1 against San Jose State, it didn't seem as though there was any chance Nunes could do it—ever. He threw for a meager 125 yards and one touchdown.
But something clicked last week against the Blue Devils, when he threw for 275 yards and three scores.
Those numbers still look nowhere as good as the ones Barkley is putting up, but Nunes is improving. If he can improve a little more against the Trojans, the Cardinal may actually have a shot at making it four in a row.
History may say one thing, but the stats this season say another. In 2012, they quite clearly state that the Trojans are one of the best teams in the nation and that Stanford is kind of mediocre.
The Cardinal rank 85th in the nation in passing yards. They're 93rd in rushing yards. They're 40th in points scored.
That doesn't bode well with the No. 2 team coming to town.
USC is in the kind of rhythm that seems impossible to disrupt, and the momentum will continue on Saturday.