No.7 Stanford and No.20 USC are set to meet for a second time this season when they face off in the Pac-12 Championship Game. The two rivals will face off at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara on Saturday night.
Stanford is coming off their biggest win of the season, hitting a last-second field goal to defeat Notre Dame a week ago. USC trounced UCLA 40-21 to win the Pac-12 South title and earn a spot in the conference championship game.
USC is a 4.5-point underdog, according to vegasinsider.com. The over/under is 59 points.
At a minimum, the winner of Saturday’s game will play in the Rose Bowl, but that might be a consolation prize for the Cardinal. While USC’s College Football Playoff hopes have been dashed for weeks, Stanford has an outside chance to compete for the national title.
Even though they have two losses, Stanford is still being considered for a postseason berth. A win on Saturday would give the team yet another quality victory, having already beaten the Trojans once to go along with wins over UCLA, Washington State and Notre Dame. Their only losses have come against the No.14 and No.16 teams in the country.
Stanford will need a lot of help on Saturday. If Clemson loses to North Carolina in the ACC Championship Game, the selection committee could view Stanford’s resume favorably over both one-loss teams. A loss by Alabama in the SEC Championship Game is also necessary, though one-loss Ohio State could ultimately take Stanford’s spot.
If Saturday’s game is anything like the first time these teams met, Stanford will keep their national championship hopes alive. David Shaw's squad went into the Coliseum and won 41-31 on Sept.19.
It wasn’t a dominant victory for Stanford, who trailed by 11 points in the second quarter and led by 10 points for less than five minutes. But the Pac-12 North champs were simply the better team, controlling time of possession and limiting their mistakes with an efficient offensive line. Kevin Hogan was nearly perfect, completing 18 of his 23 passes for 279 yards and two scores. Christian McCaffrey ran the ball 26 times for 115 yards.
Cody Kessler played well, going 25-for-32 for 272 yards and three scores. USC averaged 5.5 yards per carry, but Justin Davis only ran the ball eight times for 46 yards. The Trojans got off to a quick start, but they were outscored 31-10 to end the game.
Not the Same Trojans
A lot has changed since USC played Stanford in Week 3. Not only do the Trojans have a new coach in Clay Helton, but they are finally looking like the team that was the preseason pick to win the conference.
USC has won five of their last six games, losing only to No. 16 Oregon in Eugene. The Trojans had an impressive win against then-No.3 Utah, and their win over UCLA has some believing they can pull off the upset on Saturday. Davis wasn’t much of a factor against Stanford in September, but he’s been much better in the second half of the year, rushing for 141 yards and 130 yards, respectively, in the last two weeks. Ronald Jones II also struggled against Stanford, but the freshman remains one of the Pac 12's toughest running backs to tackle. Meanwhile, Kessler is making fewer mistakes, having thrown just one of his six interceptions in the last six games.
Stanford has been consistent throughout the year, and they really kicked things into high gear when they met USC. After scoring six points in the season opener, the Cardinal have scored at least 30 points in every contest. Their game against USC started a streak of four games with at least 41 points.
The Trojans are better than they were two and a half months ago, but the Cardinal boast one of the most effective offenses in college football. Stanford's offensive line should outperform USC's front seven again, while Hogan provides another solid effort in a tight win.
Predicted Score: Stanford over USC, 40-37