STANFORD, Calif. – USC's first visit to Stanford Stadium in four years carries several storylines. Among them:
- Can Stanford rebound from its 2021 season to continue its recent success against the Trojans?
- How will USC fare in its first Power Five test under new coach Lincoln Riley?
- Will this game mark the end of an era as the final conference contest at Stanford Stadium between schools that have been conference rivals since 1922?
Both teams are coming off one-sided season-opening victories – Stanford, 41-10 over Colgate, and USC, 66-14 over Rice. Next, they collide for the 101st time.
Stanford has beaten the Trojans in 10 of their past 16 meetings and hasn't lost in the series at Stanford Stadium since 2014. Since 2010, the Cardinal has beaten the Trojans four out of five at home. Saturday's 4:30 p.m. contest (ABC-TV) marks USC's first appearance at Stanford Stadium since 2018, when Bryce Love (136 yards rushing) led Stanford to a 17-3 victory.
USC will join the Big Ten in 2024 possibly ending a rivalry that began in 1905 and has been played nearly every year since 1919. When the conference expanded to 12 in 2011 and split into divisions – with Stanford and Cal in the North and USC and UCLA in the South – all four insisted on playing each other to keep those rivalries alive.
Would those ties outlast conference differences? David Shaw hopes so.
"Our alumni love the competition," said Shaw, Stanford's Bradford M. Freeman Director of Football. "We've had a lot of exciting games, exciting games that have gone both ways. A lot of great players in those games.
"My hope and wish is that this rivalry continues, regardless of conference affiliation."
Tanner McKee's first start resulted in a 42-28 victory over USC in 2021. Photo by Bob Drebin/ISIphotos.com.
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WITH No. 10 USC's roster almost completely revamped, with a new coaching staff and 31 new transfers from four-year programs, not much can be gained from watching film of the Trojans, including Stanford's 42-28 victory at the Los Angeles Coliseum last year.
Much of the preparation has come from watching Riley's 2021 Oklahoma team. In fact, Patrick Fields, Stanford's graduate transfer, has been prominent in the Sooners' defensive film. They've also paid attention to old Texas Tech 'Air Raid' schemes, when Riley spent his first seven coaching seasons in under Mike Leach.
"Coach Riley does a great job of finding unique ways to get his players the ball," Stanford safety Jonathan McGill said. "As a defense, we're looking forward to the challenge."
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Patrick Fields. Photo by Glen Mitchell/ISIphotos.com.
FIELDS, A THREE-YEAR starter at free safety at Oklahoma, has been helpful in trying to decipher USC.
"Pat's huge," McGill said. "Going against a Riley offense in spring ball and in training camp, he's definitely been a help. He's given us little tendencies and tips and tricks of what he's experienced. But, obviously, USC knows that Patrick Fields is on Stanford so they might try to break tendencies with a couple of things.
"With that in mind, we're taking everything Pat tells us with a grain of salt. We'll see over the course of the game how it shakes out and what we feel is going on."
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TEN YEARS AGO, Stanford beat No. 2 USC, 21-14, at Stanford Stadium in a game that turned out to be an exciting and important as the Cardinal assembled its first Rose Bowl-winning season in 41 years.
Josh Nunes was the successor to Andrew Luck at quarterback in 2012 and threw a go-ahead 37-yard touchdown to Zach Ertz with 10:20 left for the winning score in the Week Three game.
Stepfan Taylor gained 153 yards on 27 carries and scored on a 59-yard run to put the Cardinal on the board, and then on a 23-yard screen pass to tie it at 14-14 late in the third quarter. This was the third of Taylor's three 1,000-yard seasons on the way to becoming Stanford's career rushing leader, with 4,300 yards.
"I remember that week of practice," Shaw said. "Stepfan Taylor was a different animal. That year in particular and that game in particular, he became a big-play running back. 'I'm going to show up and I'm going to play great, and I want you guys to play great with me.' That's what I remember about that time."
Stepfan Taylor, vs. USC, 2012. Photo by Bob Drebin/ISIphotos.com.
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NINE WOMEN WILL be enshrined into the Stanford Athletics Hall of Fame in a ceremony at Bing Concert Hall on Friday night and honored at halftime of the football game on Saturday.
Among them is Nneka Ogwumike '12, a three-time basketball All-American who graduated as Stanford's second all-time leading scorer. She was the WNBA's MVP in 2016 and a seven-time all-star. She also is the WNBA's union player representative and her leadership was crucial during the COVID-19 pandemic and in unifying the players regarding civil rights, especially in reaction to the George Floyd killing.
Shaw asked Ogwumike to address the team in advance of Saturday's game as the honorary captain.
"She's done so many great things, and she's someone we should all look up to, both on our campus and elsewhere … to point to her and say, 'This is who we should all aspire to be like,'" he said. "She's a positive influence in everything she does. She speaks for herself, but she can also speak for athletes. She can speak for humanity. She's a wonderful person and I'm excited for our team to hear from her."
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ANDREW LUCK WILL be on hand this weekend for his National Football Foundation On-Campus salute at the end of the first quarter. Luck will become the 19th Cardinal to enter the College Football Hall of Fame when he is officially inducted in Las Vegas in December.
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Tristan Sinclair. Photo by Glen Mitchell/ISIphotos.com.
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McGILL, WHO MISSED all but two games with an injury last season, used his time away to improve his understanding of the game, sitting in on coaches' meetings and learning to think as a coach.
McGill said he used to focus on specific opponents. Now, he looks for the bigger picture.
"Now, I'm trying to gameplan against the coaches as well," he said. "I'm trying to understand what a coach wants to do compared to what players are trying to get me to do and manipulate me to do.
"The coaches are the ones calling the plays, so trying to get tendencies on coaches and understand what they're favorite call is, their favorite personnel … Those were things I wasn't necessarily thinking of two seasons ago when I was able to play. I'm definitely a better player post-injury than I was pre-injury."
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SHAW SEES THIS game as a matchup between the two best quarterbacks in the Pac-12: McKee and USC's Caleb Williams, an Oklahoma transfer.
"As pure passers, they're both exceptional," Shaw said. "As a runner, Tanner's underappreciated. But, at the same time, Caleb is special there. We're talking about two guys who, when you watch them play, you see two NFL quarterbacks. It's going to be fun to watch."