TV Schedule: Saturday December 5, 7:45 p.m. ET, ESPN
Stadium: Levi’s Stadium, Santa Clara, Calif.
Line: USC (+4.5)
The USC Trojans are looking to regain their glory days as they will meet the Stanford Cardinal in Santa Clara for a chance to play in the Rose Bowl. Both teams are coming off of emotional wins to get here. Stanford won at the last second to defeat Notre Dame, while USC took down UCLA for the Pac-12 South title and the right to play in this game.
Stanford pretty much knows they have no shot of sneaking back into the playoff picture after they suffered their second loss a few weeks ago, but I don’t expect that to make them any less motivated to take the Pac-12 crown. They want to continue to be right up there as one of conference’s alpha dogs. For USC, this is actually their first appearance in the conference title game since it was introduced in 2011. It’s been a long road back to national relevancy — one that isn’t complete yet — but they have achieved one goal on that journey.
Christian McCaffrey is the obvious choice for player to keep an eye on for the Cardinal. The Stanford running back has had an historic season. He has 1,640 yards rushing with seven scores. He also has over 400 receiving yards with three more scores. He is a true Heisman candidate. Quarterback Kevin Hogan has stepped up his game this year as well with 23 touchdowns and only seven interceptions. He’s been a key part in Stanford’s big year.
It’s going to be hard for USC to pinpoint which receivers to focus on. Stanford has three receivers (not including McCaffrey) who have over 350 yards receiving this year, while no one is over 500. It’s an extremely balanced and equal distribution corps. Michael Rector, Austin Hopper and Devon Cajuste will all need to be covered closely. USC is going to have a hard time stopping Stanford’s well-oiled machine of an offense.
USC is led by senior QB Cody Kessler, who has 3,128 passing yards and 27 touchdowns. They are also graced with the talent of three pretty solid running backs, as Ronald Jones III, Justin Davis and Tre Madden all bring a special skill set to the table that makes their running back corps pretty dangerous. At receiver they are led by JuJu Smith-Schuster with over 1,300 yards and 10 scores. However, a broken hand that he is playing through has slowed him down a bit.
The most dangerous player that Stanford has to scheme for, though, is do-it-all man Adoree’ Jackson. As a cornerback, he has an interception this season along with a forced fumble. As a returner he has two punt returns for scores. Finally, as a receiver he has 24 catches for 382 yards and two scores. Stanford cannot let Jackson beat them, especially in the return game like UCLA got burned last week.
The x-factor in this game could be the fact that Clay Helton was named the permanent head coach of USC on Monday after serving as their interim coach for months. It seems as if the players love him and will rally around him, as this video from the team meeting shows.They could come out fired up to prove he was the right man for the job.
It’ll be hard for Stanford to beat USC twice in one season (they won 41-31 in September), but they have the team that could do it. USC has loads of talent, more than their record shows, and they are going to want to show the nation they are back. It’s going to come down to what defense can force more mistakes from the veteran QBs. Stanford may just be a little bit more disciplined and better coached at the moment than the Trojans, but it should be a close one.
Prediction: Stanford 34, USC 27