Stanford vs. USC: Four (Not So) Preposterous Predictions

Robert Woods is preposterously good. Can the Cardinal shut him down?

Here are four things that probably won't (but maybe will) happen Saturday at the LA Coliseum. Vote for the least preposterous prediction and feel free to leave your own in the comments section. 

1. Stanford will win by at least 30 points. 

Why it's preposterous: USC is coming off a 31-17 thrashing of Notre Dame in South Bend, where the Fighting Irish dominated Michigan State, which beat Wisconsin, which -- oh, forget it. The Trojans are a good team. Lane Kiffin's players are the most talented bunch that the Cardinal has played this season and they're riding high at 6-1 after three consecutive wins. USC boasts one of the best quarterbacks in the country in Matt Barkley, an elite wide receiver in Robert Woods and speed on both sides of the ball. Vegas has installed the Cardinal as 7.5 point favorites and most pundits expect the Trojans to give Stanford a game, if not pull off the upset.

Why it could happen: USC doesn't lose by more than 30 points at home that often, but it happened two years ago against Stanford. What's your deal? Here's the deal: The Trojans are playing well, but this is the same team that beat an abysmal Minnesota squad by two points in the first week of the season at home and committed four turnovers in a 43-22 loss to Arizona State. Oh, and Notre Dame just isn't that good. By now, you're aware of Stanford's streak of 10 consecutive wins by at least 25 points -- a first in the modern era (since 1936). The Cardinal was a heavy favorite in most of those games, but it has also dominated a few games that were supposed to be close (Virginia Tech last season, Arizona and Washington this season). Do you think this team is tired of hearing about how they haven't played anyone yet? Another rout in the Coliseum might convert a few more of the doubters.

2. Robert Woods will have less than 50 yards receiving.

Why it's preposterous: Woods had 50 yards receiving by the end of warmups in last year's meeting, finishing with 224 yards on 12 catches in Stanford's 37-35 win. The sophomore ranks second in the nation with 128 yards per game and is coming off a 12-catch, 119-yard, two-touchdown performance against Notre Dame. Woods has eclipsed 100 receiving yards in five of seven games this year and could be primed for another big day against a Stanford pass defense that ranks 81st in the country. The Cardinal will likely be without injured safety Delano Howell, who will make the trip to LA but is unexpected to play. Expect Barkley to look Woods' way early and often. Woods' ability to pick up yards after the catch coupled with Stanford's less than stellar tackling at times is a potentially scary combination.

Why it could happen: Woods was limited to five catches for 36 yards in the Trojans' 30-9 win over Cal, so he is human. Arizona's Juron Criner, who was one week removed from undergoing an appendectomy, is the the best receiver that Stanford has faced this season and the Cardinal managed to limit him to a modest six catches for 48 yards and a touchdown. Woods is better than Criner, but the Cardinal has already played three teams (Arizona, Washington State, and Duke) that rank ahead of USC in passing offense.

3. Stanford's tight ends will combine for at least 4 touchdowns.

Why it's preposterous: As good as Tree's Company has been this season, the trio hasn't combined for four scores in a game. (Coby Fleener and Zach Ertz turned the trick in the Orange Bowl on the strength of Fleener's three TDs.) The trio was quiet last week -- Luck only threw for 169 yards -- as Stanford was content to run the ball down Washington's throat. USC ranks 104th in pass defense, but the Trojans have allowed the fewest passing touchdowns (10) of any team ranked 100 or lower with the exception of Boston College. Sort of like Stanford, the USC defense bends a lot without breaking.

Why it could happen: Syracuse tight end Nick Provo had eight catches for 85 yards in the Orange's 38-17 loss to USC in September, while Notre Dame tight end Tyler Eifert had seven catches for 66 yards in last week's game. Neither member of the Mackey Award midseason watch list scored, but their performances would seem to indicate that Luck will have success going to his tight ends. Keeping track of three elite TEs is a lot more difficult than keeping track of one.

4. Stanford will rush for at least 400 yards. 

Why it's preposterous: Suggesting the Cardinal could top 300 yards on the ground against the 11th-ranked rushing defense, a unit that has allowed 76 rushing yards over its last two games and has held five of its seven opponents to less than 100 yards, might be preposterous enough. 

Why it could happen: Washington had the 17th-ranked rushing defense going into last week's game before Stanford's offensive line had its way with the Huskies. That previously sparkling ranking slipped all the way to 57. The Cardinal will welcome the challenge of facing another supposedly tough front seven and attempt to wear down the USC defense with power left, power right, and the occasional wrinkle, be it Tyler Gaffney in the Sequoia formation or Chris Owusu on a reverse. The Trojans know what's coming, but can they do anything to stop it?

 

 

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