The No. 6 USC Trojans host the Stanford Cardinal on Saturday at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, with recent history suggesting that the rivalry game could once again be decided by one score. The average margin of victory has been just 4.6 points in the past five seasons and with each game loaded with dramatic moments.
The last time a game between USC and Stanford was decided by more than one score was 2009. USC entered the home game as an 11-point favorite, but Stanford wound up earning a convincing victory, 55-21. The Trojans enter Saturday's contest as 9.5-point favorites, and riding the momentum of two lopsided victories over Arkansas State and Idaho by a combined score of 114-15.
USC is looking to extend their winning streak to three games after falling to Stanford in the previous four meetings. In 2013 and 2014, the Trojans needed a fourth-quarter field goal by Andre Heidari to defeat the highly regarded Cardinal. In both years, the USC defense held Stanford scoreless in the fourth quarter.
Things did not start well for Stanford this season. David Shaw's squad entered 2015 as the No. 21 team in the nation, but fell on the road to Northwestern, 16-6, in their season opener. Quarterback Kevin Hogan has completed just 57.8 percent of his passes, and the normally fleet-footed senior has rushed for just three yards.
Things have been a lot more positive for USC's quarterback. Heisman Trophy candidate Cody Kessler has completed 78.9 percent of his passes for seven touchdowns and no interceptions. Despite Stanford's early woes, Kessler is aware that he will finally be tested by an effective defense.
“They’ve always been big and strong,” Kessler said this week. “They do a great job with their front seven, and their DBs are holding up in coverage. Since I’ve been here, it doesn’t matter who’s in there for them. One guy graduates, and somebody else steps in. Their defense looks great.”
USC head coach Steve Sarkisian got a boost on defense, as he welcomes back star linebacker Lamar Dawson. The fifth-year senior has not played since Oct. 2013, after suffering a season-ending knee injury followed by a recent rib fracture in training camp.
Stanford will be without defensive tackle Harrison Phillips for the rest of the season, but have a strong defensive linemen trio in Aziz Shittu, Brennan Scarlett and Solomon Thomas.
Start Time: 8:00 p.m. ET/5:00 p.m. PT
TV Channel: ABC
Live Stream Info: Watch ESPN
Betting Odds: USC favored by 9.5 points.
Over/Under: 50.5 points
Prediction: Stanford could very easily make this game a lot closer than people think. The Cardinal have a strong offensive line and some key offensive weapons to put up points against solid Trojan defense. But that is probably not enough to hold off USC at the Coliseum. Expect a tight game, and for either JuJu Smith-Schuster or Adoree Jackson to make a big play to lead USC to a close win.
Predicted Score: USC over Stanford, 24-21