No. 14 USC and Stanford have been at or near the top of their respective divisions of the Pac-12 for the majority of the last 10 times they have met. They Trojans and Cardinal also been in the national spotlight, as well, as traditional leaders of the conference. But as they prepare to meet as Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Saturday for an early season matchup, it appears the programs are headed in entirely different directions.
USC, the media's pick to win the Pac-12 South, is off to a 1-0 start by virtue of 30-7 victory over San Jose State. Stanford, on the other hand, was predicted to finish fourth in the Pac-12 North and is 0-1 following a listless 24-7 loss to Kansas State.
These teams last met in Week 2 of the 2019 season, when the Trojans issued an authoritative 45-20 beating to a Stanford squad then-ranked No. 23. The Cardinal have not cracked the top 25 since, but they could flip the early script for the 2021 season with an upset. But USC will be looking for another decisive win that catapults it closer to the top 10 as the class of the Pac-12.
USC vs. Stanford: Need to know
USC as the Pac-12 standard bearer: With No. 12 Oregon pulling an upset at No. 3 Ohio State on Saturday, the Trojans are trying to keep up in the race to be the Pac-12's standard bearer. The Ducks looked like a national contender by knocking off the Buckeyes on the road. Can USC match that performance with an authoritative victory over a team it is favored to beat? A plodding performance lacking in offensive fireworks won't catch much national attention, but a breakout performance for junior quarterback Kedon Slovis would go a long way toward cementing USC as Oregon's chief competition in the league.
Tanner McKee's team: Stanford coach David Shaw announced Tuesday that sophomore Tanner McKee will start at quarterback against the Trojans after splitting Week 1 reps with Jack West. McKee ranked as the No. 3 pro-style quarterback in the 2018 recruiting class behind Trevor Lawrence and JT Daniels. After spending two years on an LDS mission, he debuted for the Cardinal as a backup to Davis Mills last season before battling with West for the starting job this offseason. Neither quarterback was particularly effective against Kansas State, but McKee did a better job of taking care of the football and led Stanford's only scoring drive. Can he take it to the next level now that he's been tabbed as the top guy?
Stanford's running game looks weak: McKee is going to need some help from the run game if Stanford is going to be better offensively in Week 2. Running backs Austin Jones and E.J. Smith netted just 43 yards on 12 carries against K-State, and 15 of those yards came on a single run by Smith in garbage time. However, USC's run defense could be another difficult test; the Trojans held San Jose State to just 68 yards on the ground.
How to watch Team vs. Team live
Date: Saturday, Sept. 11 | Time: 10:30 p.m. ET
Location: Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum -- Los Angeles
TV: Fox | Live stream: fuboTV (Try for free)
Team vs. Team prediction, picks
USC covered a 14.5-point spread against a solid San Jose State team last week without looking elite. The Trojans used a stifling run defense and a big fourth quarter to create separation. With Stanford allowing only 344 total yards in the loss to Kansas State, expect this to be lower-scoring game. While USC should win, the Cardinal are well-coached team and appear to have a competent defense. That should be enough to keep USC from pulling away. Prediction: Stanford (+17.5)
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