Stanford Cardinal Face USC Trojans in Top-15 Matchup

SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES - AUGUST 27: Stanford University players celebrate winning the Sydney Cup after defeating Rice University (Rice Owls) at Allianz Stadium on August 27, 2017 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Brook Mitchell/Getty Images)
SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES - AUGUST 27: Stanford University players celebrate winning the Sydney Cup after defeating Rice University (Rice Owls) at Allianz Stadium on August 27, 2017 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Brook Mitchell/Getty Images) /

Conference play begins early for the Stanford Cardinal with a showdown against the USC Trojans in Los Angeles.

At this point, the Stanford Cardinal could travel anywhere to play football at a neutral site. The Cardinal opened the season two weeks ago in Sydney, Australia against the Rice Owls and the floodgates opened after the first quarter. Bryce Love rushed for 180 yards and a touchdown as he looked poised from the start. Quarterback Keller Chryst showed no signs of his knee injury from last season, throwing for 253 yards in Stanford’s 62-7 win over Rice.

The victory was in hand after the Cardinal entered halftime with a 38-0 lead. Love and Chryst saw little action in the second half to avoid risking injury. The sizable lead allowed David Shaw to put in backups on both offense and defense to give players some game experience.

With a two-week break between games, Coach Shaw’s concern will be Stanford not getting off to a slow start. The Cardinal left Australia in full health making an early statement on how good the team can be even after losing Christian McCaffrey and Solomon Thomas to the NFL. Just from the opening games by teams in the Pac-12 North, Stanford and Oregon had impressive wins.

Stanford Cardinal Football
Stanford Cardinal Football /

Stanford Cardinal Football

But unlike a neutral site in the opening game, the Cardinal will hit the road into hostile territory at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Led by potential Heisman candidate quarterback Sam Darnold, USC hopes to break through and reclaim the Pac-12 throne finally. Psychological factors may be within the team as Stanford has gotten the better of USC the past decade. Almost 10 years have gone by since Stanford completed the biggest upset with a 24-23 win at USC.

USC has not been the same since Pete Carroll left the program for the NFL. After his departure, sanctions by the NCAA hit the Trojans with a reduction of scholarships and a bowl game ban. When the Pac-12 introduced a championship game, USC was ineligible to participate due to the violations.

After the violations were put in the rearview mirror, USC has not shown signs of the dominance they had under Carroll. Former assistants Lane Kiffin and Steve Sarkisian both failed to bring the Trojans back to the glory days. Both were successful in getting top recruits, though results did not cut the field.

Now in his second season as head coach, Clay Helton appears to have taken a positive step for USC after last season. Initially joining the USC staff as the quarterback’s coach in 2010, Helton took over as interim head coach when Sarkisian got dismissed after a 1-3 start last season. After taking over, the Trojans won eight straight games including a 26-13 win at No. 4 Washington. The season concluded with a wild 52-49 Rose Bowl victory over Penn State.

Expectations for the Trojans this season are to win the Pac-12 and a berth in the College Football Playoff. USC began the season ranked No. 4 but played Western Michigan last weekend as if overrated. The Broncos had the Trojans on upset alert after three quarters with the score tied 21-21 entering the final act. USC broke away late by scoring 28 points to thwart any chance of an upset. An underwhelming performance saw USC slip to No. 6 in the standings.

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Darnold cannot afford any miscues this weekend as Stanford looked sharp on defense in their opener. The Cardinal only allowed 95 yards passing against the Owls. If USC wants to come away as winners, the play of their quarterback will be the difference maker. He has plenty of options to throw the ball to in receivers Deontay Burnett, Steven Mitchell Jr., and tight end Tyler Petite.

Like Stanford’s Love, USC has a reliable tailback in Ronald Jones II who rushed for 159 yards and three touchdowns last weekend. Jones showed his physicality by shedding tacklers and taking contact against Western Michigan. Freshman Stephen Carr showed promise of becoming a big-time player with a two-touchdown performance and rushing for 69 yards.

Jones and Carr may have trouble getting their feet going against Stanford, whose defense allowed only 146 yards against Rice. Peter Kalambayi had five tackles, including a sack, to lead the defense. Stanford’s secondary has been boasted as possibly the best in the Pac-12 and will have an opportunity to make a case against USC.

Love may be the center of attack for the Cardinal offense as the Trojans appeared vulnerable against the run game. USC allowed 263 yards on the ground as the Trojans were unable to wrap up players. Rasheem Green and Marvell Tell III are standouts on defense which will likely disrupt Stanford from moving the ball.

Stanford and USC face each other for the fourth consecutive season to begin conference play. After a two-week hiatus, Stanford remains at No. 14 in the polls as last weekend officially started the college football season.

Next: Stanford Cardinal Face Rice In Season Opener

Expect a close game between the two Pac-12 rivals as both programs have ambitions of taking the top spot in the conference. USC is favored to win though last weekend gives no assurance after a poor start. Stanford is picked to finish behind Washington though a win in Los Angeles could tip the scales in their favor.