2017 Pac-12 Football Championship Game: USC and Stanford clash in rematch
The 2017 Pac-12 Football Championship Game is shaping up to be an epic rematch between two power teams. Stanford took the 2015 Pac-12 title with a 41-22 win over USC. They also won last year's lone matchup in the regular season against the Trojans.
But USC exacted some revenge earlier this year with a 42-24 victory over the Cardinal for their 11th-straight win. The two teams will clash against in Santa Clara on Friday, Dec. 1 for the winner-take-all FCG.
What to watch
The meeting is shaping up to be a matchup between two of the premier running backs in all of college football.
Bryce Love has made the most of his time on The Farm, shattering records and helping propel the Card to an 8-3 record. In the win over Arizona State in September, Love ran for 301 yards, breaking Christian McCaffrey's record and setting a new high for a single game in Stanford history.
It also pushed him past 1,000 yards, making him the fastest Cardinal to ever hit the 1,000 yard mark. Love needed just five games and 87 carries to accomplish the feat. This fast start start catapulted the junior into the national spotlight as a Heisman candidate.
Love is second in FBS with 1,848 yards (behind only SDSU's Rashaad Penny) even after being sidelined with an injury and missing the game against Oregon State. A healthy Bryce Love could be trouble for a USC defense that gave up an average of 158.92 yards per game this season.
The Trojans will send Ronald Jones II to the field as their own dynamic running back. Jones has been setting records his entire career at USC, setting the Trojans freshman single-game and season record for rushing yards in 2015.
And he hasn't slowed down since. Earlier this season against Arizona, Jones ran for 194 yards, putting him over 1,000 yards for the second straight season. He's the first Trojan to have back-to-back 1,000 rushing yard seasons since LenDale White did it in 2004-05.
His 3,415 career rushing yards lands him at sixth on USC's all-time list alongside some NFL-caliber running backs. His 16 touchdowns this season are tied for second-most in the Pac-12 (with Oregon's Royce Freeman and Love) and he ran for 116 yards and two scores in the Trojan's earlier win over Stanford in September.
While Love has gotten some Heisman hype organically as the season has progressed, USC quarterback Sam Darnold had the spotlight on him from the first game of the season.
Coming into the season as a favorite after a terrific end to the 2016-17 season and a dramatic Rose Bowl comeback, Darnold had some early stumbling blocks. With most of the offensive line needing to be replaced, Darnold struggled a bit under center, throwing seven interceptions in his first four games, which tied him for third-most in the country at the time.
However, Darnold has bounced back to lead his Trojans to a Pac-12 South title and a 10-2 record, despite playing 12 straight week. Since the Week 4 win over Cal, the redshirt sophomore has thrown just five interceptions compared to 15 touchdowns. His 3,462 yards is 12th-best in FBS.
Darnold also had his best game of the season against the Cardinal, throwing for four scores and finishing with a season-high 218.2 passer rating. Can Darnold capture that same magic against Stanford this time around?
It'll be a showdown between two top-tier running backs and two storied franchises at Levi's Stadium on Friday, Dec. 1 with USC hoping for an outside shot at the College Football Playoff.