It looks familiar, doesn’t it? Last season USC, then 5-2 overall, hosted No. 1 Oregon on Halloween weekend. ESPN’s College GameDay visited the Coliseum for the nationally televised primetime matchup.
Similarly this season, USC (6-1) hosts another Pac-12 juggernaut in No. 4 Stanford. The Cardinal is also undefeated, as ESPN’s Emmy Award-winning college football pregame show descends upon Los Angeles.
The circumstances are certainly familiar for these Trojans. But will it be different this time? Will USC give us a treat and play as it has in the last two games or will it only trick us into thinking things have really changed this time around?
For many, USC’s resounding 31-17 victory over Notre Dame last Saturday in South Bend, Ind., signified a turning point in its season. Many dubbed the game USC coach Lane Kiffin’s signature win. Others believed the Trojans played their most complete game on both sides of the ball.
With the win, USC thrust itself into the national spotlight, jumping to No. 20 in the Associated Press top-25 poll. Despite the ranking, fans should be warned: It’s déjà vu all over again.
Yes, USC’s defense looked better against the Irish. It won the turnover battle three-to-zero and allowed just 226 passing yards and 41 rushing yards. But Notre Dame quarterback Tommy Rees isn’t typically mentioned in the same breath as Stanford signal caller Andrew Luck. Tailbacks Cierre Wood and Jonas Gray aren’t exactly Stanford’s Stepfan Taylor or Tyler Gaffney.
The Trojan defense has certainly had its moments, but it hasn’t been consistent. A 17-0 lead midway through the second quarter should have been safe, but it wasn’t. Junior safety Jawanza Starling’s fumble recovery was a 14-point swing. Had Notre Dame scored, the Irish would have had all the momentum and it’s a coin flip the rest of the way.
The Trojan defense has had its moments, but at times, it’s almost as if it’s 2010 again. A great offensive team like Stanford will capitalize on these weaknesses. Its offensive line has allowed just two sacks all season, which ranks first in the nation. Luck will have plenty of time to find his receivers and tight ends should USC not be able to pressure him. The Cardinal won’t turn the ball over in the red zone, it won’t make any unforced errors and it will score when given the opportunity.
The USC offense also seems to be hitting its stride, but its toughest test will be against Stanford. USC coach Lane Kiffin has raved about physical front sevens from Utah and Notre Dame, but Stanford’s rushing defense ranks second in the nation behind Alabama. Its scoring defense ranks fourth in the nation and 18th in total defense.
Another thing: Stanford has been nothing short of dominant this season and the second half of last season as it defeated its last 10 opponents by at least 25 points.
The Trojans have made improvements on both sides of the ball, but still have room to grow. Sure, the last two games have been encouraging and even nice for a change. Beating up on Notre Dame — something that has been almost expected now — is one thing, but hanging with a top-five team in the nation is completely different. Let’s not get too ahead of ourselves: USC football has certainly turned the corner, but it just doesn’t have that killer instinct or aura about it that all great teams possess. And this weekend’s matchup against Stanford will prove the true measuring stick.
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