This Saturday, USC will play arguably their most important game in at least three years when the Trojans meet No. 5 Stanford at the Coliseum in Los Angeles.
ESPN will send College GameDay out to cover the festivities, and the college football world will be paying rapt attention to this contest between the new "Northern Beast" and the old-guard Trojans, who are looking to become relevant again after three sanction-filled years in purgatory.
After stumbling out of the gate in 2013, USC has endured injuries to a depleted roster and the firing of their coach midway through the year, all of which had many leaving the Cardinal and Gold for dead.
Left with few options, athletic director Pat Haden tabbed gravelly-voiced Ed Orgeron to hold down the fort while USC played out the string this year while biding their time to look for someone to take over the program permanently.
Except neither Orgeron or the team played along, and instead USC has gone 4-1 with a close loss on the road to Notre Dame followed by impressive road wins in the last two weeks at Oregon State and Cal.
Now here comes mighty Stanford, fresh off of their domination of then-No. 2 Oregon, and logic says USC has no business thinking they can win this game.
Try telling that to Orgeron and his boys.
The fact of the matter is that big 'ol Ed has his team thinking they can win this game, and perhaps they can.
But it certainly won't be easy.
Against Oregon, Stanford manhandled the Ducks and imposed their will on both sides of the ball, especially on the defensive and offensive lines.
And this will be the game plan against USC.
Physical play in the trenches is the hallmark of a David Shaw-coached team and that will be the course of action for Stanford against the Trojans.
Look for Stanford running back Tyler Gaffney to tote the rock upwards of 30 times on Saturday and like they did against the Ducks, quarterback Kevin Hogan will only throw enough to keep USC off balance.
On defense, Stanford will line up their vaunted front seven and challenge the men of Troy to establish a strong running game such as the Trojans did against both the Beavers and the Bears.
That won't be easy for the Trojans, as Stanford boasts the No. 9 rush defense in the nation, giving up only 98.7 yards per contest.
But try they will, and it will be important for USC to establish at least some sort of running game because if USC really hopes to win this game, they likely will have to do it through the air.
That is because the Cardinal is vulnerable in that portion of their defense.
In fact, when it comes to pass defense, Stanford is...well...horrible. As in ranked 97th in the nation horrible.
Of course, when it comes to passing offense, USC is not setting the world on fire.
Ranked 76th in passing offense, USC is led by first-year quarterback Cody Kessler—a player who certainly had his share of struggles this year.
However, those problems Kessler encountered were early in the season, and to be honest, the Kessler of the last few games doesn't even remotely resemble the guy leading the Trojans now.
Couple that with a suddenly healthy—and very talented—receiving corps, and it seems that success through the air is a viable possibility.
When Orgeron and his staff view the Stanford-Oregon game, they will see a very hard-nosed and talented Cardinal team—one that will pose a tremendous challenge this Saturday.
But perhaps the greatest takeaway the Trojans may see in the film of their last two games is a moribund team that found its mojo and began remembering who USC was not so long ago.
When they do, they may just forget this was a team that was on a fast track to nowhere just a few short weeks ago.
Will the Trojans learn enough from both Stanford's last game, as well as their own, to win on Saturday?
Maybe not, but just the fact that they stand a chance is a tribute to Orgeron, his staff and especially the players.
What a difference a few weeks make.
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