USC has won 46 of its last 48 home games.
It’s a well-known stat — one that dates back all the way to September 2001.
It’s equally well-known that the only miscues in between have come at the hands of the Stanford Cardinal.
Stanford beat the Trojans twice at home during that time — once in 2001 and once in 2007, which was the fateful 24-23 upset that shocked the college football world.
And now, fittingly enough, No. 9 USC (7-2) must face the Cardinal again Saturday in a Homecoming game that could prove instrumental to determining the Pac-10 champion.
And after a 51-42 win over Oregon on Saturday, No. 25 Stanford (6-3) made an appearance in the Associated Press Top 25 Poll this week for the first time since 2001.
“The fact is that it’s a huge opportunity in the conference for us,” USC coach Pete Carroll said at his Tuesday press conference. “It’s Homecoming. They’re coming off an enormous win. This is a great, great matchup for us.”
The pieces are coming together for the Trojans: a month-long homestand to end the season, starters at fullback and tight end returning, and a bye week to follow.
But while redshirt junior fullback Stanley Havili and senior tight end Anthony McCoy are expected to be back, USC will likely have to make do without top receiver redshirt junior Damian Williams, who sprained his ankle last Saturday.
Williams has more than doubled the receptions of any other pass-catcher this season.
And the Cardinal is on the rise. It has consistently outscored opponents this season, 306-221, with their three losses coming by a total of 22 points.
They also boast three key offensive weapons who can all run.
It starts with redshirt freshman quarterback Andrew Luck, the son of former NFL quarterback and would-be Rhodes Scholar Oliver Luck and exactly the kind of cerebral player you’d expect to lead the offense at Stanford.
Luck was the valedictorian of his high school class. He’s thrown just three interceptions in 216 pass attempts this season and completed 58 percent of his passes.
“He’s playing great football and they are showing tremendous confidence in him,” Carroll said of the 19-year-old. “They allow him to throw the ball all over the field.”
Luck threw for two touchdowns and 251 yards on 20 pass attempts in leading the Cardinal to its victory over Oregon. He also rushed the ball five times, including an 11-yard first-down run in the second quarter.
“He’s a big pocket guy, and he’s running well,” Carroll said. “We’re catching him at his very best right now.”
Of course, Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh doesn’t ask his rookie quarterback to do most of the heavy lifting for the Cardinal offense. That duty falls to senior running back Toby Gerhart, who — in generating a significant Heisman campaign — has rushed for a Pac-10 leading 1,217 yards this season.
The 6-foot-1, 235-pound Gerhart fits every definition of a workhorse back, averaging 26 carries a game.
“They have a real obvious core of their offense in Toby Gerhart, just a hammer back there running the football,” Carroll said. “They’ve built their style around his physical nature, and it’s working very well for them.”
And then there’s dynamo receiver Chris Owusu, a 6-foot-2, 201-pound sophomore who returns kicks and serves as the starting flanker for the Cardinal.
“He’s got terrific speed,” Carroll said. “With three [return] touchdowns, he’s got our attention already.”
Owusu is a product of nearby Oaks Christian in Westlake Village, Calif., where he starred alongside USC’s tailback Marc Tyler and cornerback Marshall Jones. He ranks fourth in the nation in kick return average at 33.3 yards per return.
Harbaugh embraced the improvement his Cardinal have shown in his third year at the helm.
“I think there’s no question that everything that’s happened to us as a football team — well we’re almost going on three years now, the great things, the horrible things, the good, the bad, all the hard work by so many people — makes us who we are,” Harbaugh said at his weekly press conference.
And the Cardinal might still be underdogs come Saturday, but a well-played game this time around is not going to be a surprise.
“No, it’s not,” junior running back Joe McKnight said. “Stanford’s a pretty good team. They’ve got good players and a disciplined team, so we have to go out there and play disciplined and hard-nosed with them.”