One of the 2014 college football season's early surprises is the first Pac-12 showdown of the season, as well as the first conference game between top-15 teams, when the No. 13 Stanford Cardinal welcome the No. 14 USC Trojans to The Farm Saturday.
There, David Shaw's team will look to extract a semblance of revenge after a shocking upset at the hands of the erratic Trojans one season ago, while Steve Sarkisian will hope to continue the fruitful beginning of his era as the man in charge.
As seems to typically be the case between the two rivals, Saturday's affair will feature a war of contrasting styles and plenty of season-long implications.
Let's take a look at the most important details surrounding the game and come up with a prediction as to how things shake out.
When: Saturday, September 6, 3:30 p.m. ET
Where: Stanford Stadium, Stanford, California
Live Stream: WatchESPN
Betting Lines (via Odds Shark):
- Over/Under: 55
- Spread: Stanford (-4)
Team Injury Reports
|Jordan Austin||OL||08/15/2014||will miss the entire season||Out||hip|
|Kenny Bigelow||DT||07/09/2014||will miss the entire season||Out||knee|
|Anthony Brown||RB||08/28/2014||has left the team||Out||personal|
|Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick||TE||08/07/2014||will miss the entire season||Out||academics|
|Lamar Dawson||LB||08/26/2014||is out indefinitely||Out||knee|
|Tre Madden||RB||09/02/2014||is doubtful for Saturday's game against Stanford||Doubtful||toe|
|Steven Mitchell||WR||08/31/2014||is questionable for Saturday's game against Stanford||Questionable||knee|
|Khaliel Rodgers||G||08/31/2014||is questionable for Saturday's game against Stanford||Questionable||knee|
|Jabari Ruffin||LB||08/11/2014||will miss the entire season||Out||knee|
|Josh Shaw||CB||08/27/2014||is suspended indefinitely||Suspended||disciplinary/legal/ankles|
|Jordan Simmons||G||08/31/2014||is questionable for Saturday's game against Stanford||Questionable||knee|
|Aundrey Walker||T||08/31/2014||is questionable for Saturday's game against Stanford||Questionable||ankle|
|Leonard Williams||DT||09/02/2014||is questionable for Saturday's game against Stanford||Questionable||ankle|
|Brandon Fanaika||OL||08/31/2014||is expected to miss the entire season||Out||undisclosed|
|Ikenna Nwafor||DL||08/23/2014||will miss the entire season||Out||undisclosed|
|Thomas Oser||C||08/31/2014||is out indefinitely||Out||undisclosed|
|Aziz Shittu||DE||08/31/2014||is questionable for Saturday's game against USC||Questionable||toe|
|Lane Veach||LB||08/31/2014||is expected to miss the entire season||Out||undisclosed|
Injury reports via USA Today.
Tea Leaves and Injuries
Given the fact both schools beat up on lesser programs in Week 1, it is hard to fathom just how much from those end results will translate to the field Saturday night and impact the game.
Shaw's team predictably ranks No. 5 in total defense already thanks to a 45-0 win over UC Davis out of the Big Sky Conference. Quarterback Kevin Hogan misfired on just four passes and threw for 204 yards and three scores, while his defense held the Aggies to a 1-of-13 mark on third downs.
USC was the opposite in a 52-13 win over Fresno State, racking up 701 total yards to rank No. 4 in the country in total offense. Freshman wideout JuJu Smith had himself a breakout game with four receptions for 123 yards, while Javorius Allen led the team in rushing with 133 yards and a score on 22 totes.
Normally, this sort of dynamic would inspire a "So what does all of this mean?" charade, but to be frank, it is entirely too early in the season to pull that card, especially when last season the two fought their battle much later in the season.
One thing we do know is that USC did not emerge unscathed. While quarterback Cody Kessler threw for 394 yards and four touchdowns, an injury casts a shadow over his potential production on the road against an elite defense.
Gary Klein of the Los Angeles Times has the scoop from Sarkisian:
He had a deal with his toe that had been bothering him throughout the ballgame. We felt like we wanted to take care of it sooner rather than later.
This morning was the first chance we could to have a procedure done to get it, in our opinion, cleaned up.... It obviously didn't affect his play Saturday.
While the issue does not sound all that concerning as of now, it is certainly something to monitor Saturday night if the Trojans offensive line cannot keep Kessler's jersey clean.
After all, USC has very little in the way of options behind him on the depth chart.
Controversy Surrounds the Game's Deciding Factor
Not often do fans get such a two-for-one deal, so bask in this one.
Both Shaw and Sarkisian say there is no beef between them, but remember that the latter was the coach at Washington last season when Stanford emerged with a 31-28 victory, and after the game, the then-Huskies coach accused the Cardinal of faking injuries to slow down his no-huddle attack.
"It was over," Shaw said, via ESPN.com. "It was in the past. He and I sat together at lunch and breakfast a couple times and talked about a bunch of other things. Our wives are getting to become good friends; they know each other well so there's no animosity whatsoever."
Sarkisian also made it a point this week to downplay the issue:
I think, first of all, I have a great deal of respect for David as a coach and as a person. We had a disagreement in the heat of the moment and I think both of us have moved on. We've seen each other on different occasions since then. We were actually in Hawaii together at an event. We haven't spoken on it and I think our relationship is fine. We've moved on.
Regardless of whether or not fans want to buy the talk, the subject will be very much put to the test Saturday—that no-huddle is the key to the game for both sides.
Kessler's health will obviously decide whether the attack is potent. But for Stanford, those left behind after Shayne Skov and Trent Murphy, among others, moved on will decide if the unit can slow what has the look of a vicious, quick-twitch attack.
For USC, a loss Saturday would be a crushing blow despite the underdog status, as Steve Mason of ESPNLA 710 illustrates:
Which team wins?
Unfortunately for the new-look Trojans, this one has the look of a loss. While Shaw has lost a few critical starters, his systems have routinely had to duel high-profile attacks such as what Oregon brings to the table and have done so with efficiency—last year, his defense held the No. 2 Ducks to 20 points.
The timing of this matchup simply does not favor USC, especially with Kessler and star defensive end Leonard Williams not locks to be 100 percent. Don't forget a patch of off-field distractions, either.
Also remember that the Cardinal have won 17 in a row at home. Expect that number to climb to 18 after time expires Saturday.
Prediction: Cardinal 24, Trojans 23
Statistics courtesy of ESPN unless otherwise specified.