I know “gameday” at USC all too well. Banners fly down fraternity row while alumni reunite at multiple picnics. University avenue is overcrowded with tailgate parties, while the marching band suits up behind Heritage Hall. Footballs fly back and forth between fans who clutch their beverage in their other hand, and familiar scents of grilling burgers overpower my senses. There will be only one thing to remember when I wake up this Saturday morning: Do I have my “Beat Stanford” button?
This coming Saturday, I will have breakfast with ESPN’s College Gameday, as they will broadcast outside the Coliseum for October 29’s primetime showdown between Stanford and USC. The Associated Press poll has the Cardinal ranked #4 and the Trojans #20, and one thing is for sure: The 90,000 spectators on hand at the Coliseum this Saturday will not be stiffed the price of their ticket.
The USC-Stanford matchup features two of the nation’s most efficient quarterbacks in Andrew Luck and Matt Barkley. Current Heisman favorite Andrew Luck has led the Cardinal to a 7-0 record and the nation’s longest winning streak, 15 games, a school record. Luck is likely to be picked first in the 2012 NFL Draft.
As for Stanford’s rushing game, the Cardinal rank #17 nationally in rushing yards per game (219 YPG). They look to Stephan Taylor to break free on the ground when the ball is not in Andrew Luck’s hands. In Stanford’s most recent “challenge” against the Washington Huskies, a game in which they won 65-21, the Cardinal accumulated 446 rushing yards, another school record. Though the Cardinal seem to be the inferior opponent in Saturday’s contest, the Trojans do not expect the Cardinal to rack up as many yards on the ground as they did last week; the Trojans rank #11 nationally in rushing defense.
Though most football fanatics credit Stanford’s success with Luck, Cardinal head coach David Shaw told ESPN that “we’re more than just Andrew Luck, we’ve got a good team. We’ve got a physical team. We’ve got backs after backs. We can play both styles of football.” Stanford also celebrated another feat: Winning their last ten games by at least 25 points.
Though the Cardinal have won their games this season by an average of 36 points, USC could be its toughest challenge of the season, entering the game with three straight victories.
The Trojans hope to have another big game out of their signal caller, Matt Barkley, if they wish to find strong offensive success. Though the Trojans boast veteran running backs in Marc Tyler and Curtis McNeal, their running game has proved inconsistent throughout their first seven games of the season. On the other hand, USC looks to improve off of last week’s performance against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, in which they rushed for over two hundred yards.
If the game turns out to be anything like it was last season, then the crowd and national television audience will be in for a sure treat. Though the Cardinal squeaked out a 37-35 victory last season in Palo Alto off a game-winning field goal, both quarterbacks (Luck and Barkley) lit up both the scoreboard and the stat sheet. Barkley threw for 390 yards in last season’s matchup, while Luck threw for 285 yards. Both quarterbacks tossed three touchdown passes.
Matt Barkley will enter Saturday’s showdown with 2,006 yards passing, along with 19 touchdown passes, compared to Andrew Luck’s 20. There is no doubt that the spark for the Trojan offense has been the chemistry between Barkley and sophomore receiver Robert Woods, who ranks second nationally in receiving yards per game with nearly 130 YPG. The sophomore averages 12.5 yards per reception along with ten receptions per game. Woods already broke the USC single game reception record with 17 in the Trojans’ first game of the season.
The key for the Trojans to pull off the massive upset this weekend will be on the defensive side of the football. If the Trojans can contain Andrew Luck in the pocket and disrupt his passes in the secondary, the Cardinal will find difficulty when it comes to scoring; passing is their main route to the end zone. However, that will not be as easy as it sounds come Saturday. With cornerback Torin Harris listed as questionable for the game, the Trojans will have to rely heavily on sophomore Nickell Robey and true freshman Isiah Wiley to keep Stanford from breaking off huge pass plays to their receiving corps.
In addition, the Trojans have had to practice this week in the midst of two off-field issues. First, the Trojans have been hounded by the media for their post game comments after beating Notre Dame, stating that they “simply quit” when USC broke open a two touchdown lead. Second, running back Dillon Baxter has been dismissed from the Trojan squad due to academic and personal issues.
Additionally, to be successful this week, the Trojans have to block and channel those distractions and focus on the next challenge: #4 Stanford. Head coach Lane Kiffin echoed that thought to ESPN by stating, “our team has had great focus over the last couple of weeks on the road, and the last thing we want to do is get distracted. We’re focused on the guys that are here. We’re focused on getting ready to play maybe the best team in the country.”
On paper, the Cardinal might have the edge, but the Trojans still have a strong chance to pull off the upset behind supreme physical talent and a home field advantage that will prove to be a key asset come game time this Saturday. Ultimately, this game will come down to which defense steps up and contains the opposing quarterback.
Final Score Prediction: USC 31, Stanford 28