Pregame: Well hello there, fancy Stanford helmets.
The stakes: It’s 2015 all over again, as the USC Trojans and the Stanford Cardinal will collide in the 2017 Pac-12 Championship matchup. The Cardinal embarrassed their Southern California foes 41-22 in the game two years ago but will have a tougher time doing the same this year.
USC (10-2 overall, 8-1 Pac-12) cruised past Stanford (9-3, 7-2), 42-24, in September, running for an astounding 307 yards and two touchdowns. Quarterback Sam Darnold threw only five incompletions. However, Stanford rebounded quickly from that game — winning eight of its next 10.
- Time: 8 p.m. ET
- Location: Levi’s Stadium, Santa Clara, Calif.
- TV: ESPN
- Streaming: WatchESPN
- Odds: USC is favored by 4 points
Back in 2015 USC and Stanford met in the Pac-12 Championship game at Levi’s Stadium where the Trojans looked to pull an upset and avenge their earlier loss to Stanford while the Cardinal was playing for a possible Playoff berth. A few players such as Ronald Jones II, Chris Hawkins, and Steven Mitchell Jr. were a part of that Trojans team that lost to Stanford that night.
Clay Helton also had the interim tag taken off a few days before the game. The USC defense got torched by Heisman candidate running back Christian McCaffrey, who had an amazing performance which almost won him the Heisman. That night Stanford defeated USC 41-22 on its way to the Rose Bowl while the Trojans went to the Holiday bowl.
Stanford is a much better and different team than when it played the Trojans back on September 9. Stanford quarterback K.J. Costello has looked pretty good since he was named the starting quarterback, and it’s been a trickle-down effect for the whole offense. Running back Bryce Love has been battling an ankle injury; however he is in the running for the Heisman trophy with the outstanding numbers he has put up. Even the defense has played some improved football since then. USC on the other hand been winning, but won games in ugly fashion since its win over Stanford.
After two straight losses early in the season, I doubted Stanford could win the Pac-12 North, and I’m sure I was not alone; fans questioned Shaw’s conservative play calling and his choice behind center. Even David Shaw himself mentioned in his opening remarks Saturday night that he doubted whether his team would see USC again for a rematch. But here we are on Thanksgiving weekend, thinking about the Pac-12 Championship game next Friday vs. the Trojans and thinking about how much better of a team Stanford is now than in September.
Stanford battled on both sides of the ball on Saturday, and it wasn’t until late in the game that they slipped away from the Irish. Without key turnovers, this game would’ve been a nail-biter; if not for the Stanford front seven, Notre Dame would’ve ran away with the game early.
The Stanford Cardinal take on the USC Trojans Friday with the Pac-12 Conference Championship on the line. These two teams last met in early September with the Trojans winning convincingly. Before we overextrapolate from the results of one game that happened an eternity ago in college football time, it is important to take a look at what the Trojans have done on the football field since early September.
This will be a great matchup because both teams have a rich history with one another. But USC will avenge its championship loss in 2015. Bud Elliott agreed in his six best conference championship bets column.