USC vs. Stanford: Are the Cardinal Too High To Fly?


It seems to happen every year in the Pac-10.  One team gets a huge upset win over a highly-ranked foe but then loses its next game.  They are riding such an emotional high that they cannot get grounded in time to take care of business.

It has already happened several times this year and could happen again on Saturday.

USC pulled out a last minute win over Ohio State, 18-15, in their second game of the year then lost the following week to lowly Washington, 16-13.  The following week Washington was soundly trounced by Oregon State 34-14.

The same thing happened last year.  USC trounced Ohio State 35-3 at the Coliseum then lost to Oregon State in Corvallis, 27-21.  The following week the Beavers were edged out by Utah, 31-28.

Two weeks ago, the Oregon Ducks blasted USC in the worst defeat in the Pete Carroll era, 47-20.  The Ducks went out last week and laid an egg at Stanford as the emotionally-charged Cardinal held on to win 51-42.

But will all the emotions of that game leave the Cardinal so depleted that they won’t be able to pull off another Coliseum upset like they did in 2007?

Back then USC was the No. 1 team in the nation and a 41-point favorite to beat Stanford.  But Jim Harbaugh, in his first year as head coach at Stanford, pulled off what some considered the greatest upset in college football history as Stanford went on to win 24-23.

Things are a little different this time as the Cardinal are no longer 41-point dogs but a more manageable 10-point underdog.

In some respects, Stanford might even be considered the favorites.  After all, they hung 51 points on the team that trounced USC only two weeks ago.

Stanford is second in the conference in total offense: USC is fifth.  Stanford is second in scoring offense; USC is sixth.  They are fourth in passing offense; USC is eighth. Stanford is second in rushing offense; USC is fourth.

Where USC holds the edge is on defense.  USC is fourth in total defense; Stanford is eighth.  USC is first in scoring defense; Stanford is eighth.  USC is fifth in pass defense; Stanford is right behind them at sixth.  USC is fifth in rushing defense; Stanford is seventh.

USC ranks first in sacks and tackles for a loss while Stanford is sixth and eighth respectively.

Special teams are a draw.  Stanford is ranked first on kickoff returns while USC ranks last.  But in punt returns USC ranks second, and Stanford is eighth.

However, the Trojans main punt returner, wideout Damian Williams, has a high ankle sprain.  Even if he does play, most likely he will not be returning punts.

For the most part, it looks like the game will come down to Stanford’s offense versus USC’s defense.  With the Cardinal coming in as 10-point underdogs, it looks as though Las Vegas is betting on the defense.

Also, they may be counting on Stanford’s inability to come down from the emotional high of last week’s triumph over Oregon.

As has happened several times to the team they are playing this weekend, Stanford may be looking back at last week’s victory instead of focusing on the game at hand.

But don’t count on it.  USC’s reputation as the dominant team in the Pac-10 has been tarnished by their loss to Oregon, but it hasn’t been destroyed.  At least not yet.

That is especially true in the Coliseum where the Trojans have only lost once in the last 48 consecutive home games.

Although Stanford comes into the Coliseum with the No. 1 ranked passer (Sean Canfield), the No. 1 ranked running back (Toby Gerhart), and the No. 2 ranked receiver (Ryan Whalen) in the conference, Jim Harbaugh and his players know that a second upset win in a row will not be easy.

USC won’t be looking back or looking ahead.  Pete Carroll will have his Trojans focused and ready.  And with good reason.   USC’s one loss at the Coliseum came at the hands of Jim Harbaugh’s Cardinal.

If Stanford does manage to pull off another upset at the Coliseum, this one won’t be by surprise.