USC is the GREATEST FOOTBALL PROGRAM in the history of collegiate football or rugby... USC will average 50 points per game in 2015 and go 15-0... Cody Kessler is the greatest quarterback since John David Booty err I mean Matt Leinart, the college years... Basically Stanford should just forfeit the game now as USC is just too good a team for a Stanford team that couldn't beat little ol' Northwestern (Ranked #23 now but don't tell anyone). Now I don't mean to be condescending but I'm not going to kneel down to USC because they act like they are God's gift to college football.
First off, Stanford travels to Southern California this year so it's unlikely Stanford can even compete with a USC team on the road, especially after dominating 2 "powerhouses" in Arkansas State and Idaho. USC is just too good and too athletic for Stanford... OK OK, I'm not going to drag on the sarcasm any longer. I've seen this story for the last 20 years and for being a program that is a great program and I truly mean that, they are 11-9 against Stanford in the last 20 meetings. This century, USC leads 8-7. This decade, Stanford leads 3-2. Twelve of those 20 games have been decided by 7 or less and remember USC won 5 straight from 02-06 when Stanford was a borderline high school team and USC was going through one of the best dynasties in college football. My point is this series has been a toss-up for the last 20 years barring that small span. As far as being on the road of late, Stanford actually has dominated in LA with a 3-1 record. Stanford has averaged 38 ppg in that span. Yes that number is high because of Andrew Luck, I get that but statistics are statistics.
Before we go any further with the players, this game starts with the two head coaches. Although I am not a big fan of how David Shaw can coach a game, he needs to coach Saturday like his official record states (43-13 with 2 conference championships) and treat Steve Sarkisian like his official record shows (45-33 with ZERO double digit win seasons). David Shaw needs to look across that field on Saturday like Jim Harbaugh used to look at Pete Carroll; ZERO FEAR. It's okay to get pumped up for a big game David; this is a BIG GAME and a very important one for you as a head coach.
Now the coaches can only do so much as the players are the ones who actually have to deliver and when you have a potential NFL star in the making in Cody Kessler, it's easier to execute the playbook. Now his resume looks great but there is always something hiding if you look deep enough. There is no perfect quarterback so I will forgive Kessler's performance against Washington State in 2013. Now that we erase that, when he has played against defenses that look more like NFL style defenses than college, he has struggled. In 10 games against above average defenses if you take away his best performance (Notre Dame 2014) and his worst performance (UCLA 2013), Kessler averages a 21 for 33 completion rate (63%) with 237 yards. That's not bad but it's not stats that make me want to crown you a Heisman before week 3 and draft you in the first round. Kessler also has thrown less than a touchdown per game in those games against good defenses. Now although Kessler has only thrown one touchdown against Stanford with just over 200 yards per game, he is 2-0 so for that, I'll salute my cap.
Meanwhile on the other side, this is a game that could cement Kevin Hogan in Stanford lore. Hogan has done things at Stanford that Plunkett, Elway, or Luck could do yet he is still not even close to being mentioned with those guys... unless you probably ask a UCLA fan. This game isn't just about keeping Stanford dreams alive. This game is one that many NFL scouts will be watching and Hogan will have that chip on his shoulder. Hogan has never beaten USC nor has he thrown a touchdown against them. He went 22-30 last season but none of those completions helped get Stanford into the end zone. Hogan beat Oregon in Eugene in his first ever road start, he won a road game in Tempe to win the Pac-12 title, and has won a Rose Bowl in Pasadena but the win against the Trojans have eluded him. He has more to play for than Kessler and if the team wants to win, Hulkamania needs to show up.
Special teams have been the x-factor for both teams and it has literally cost a team the game of late. In 2007, USC missed an extra point in a game they were favored by 273. That missed extra point turned out to be the game as Stanford beat USC 24-23. In 2010, Stanford kicker Nate Whitaker missed a crucial extra point which forced Stanford to make a last second field goal to win the game. Whitaker made the kick but it could have cost Stanford the game. In the 2011 triple overtime game, kickers were perfect with both teams not giving up a punt return or kickoff return for a touchdown. In 2013, USC won 20-17. Conrad Ukropina missed a field goal while Andre Heidari made a 47 yarder with 19 seconds left to seal the deal. That brings us to last season. USC won 13-10. My pal Jordy missed 2 field goals while Heidari hit a 53-yard field goal with just under 3 minutes. Saturday is a game within a game. Kessler or Hogan might play great but look for the kickers to be the real MVP's.
As the spread grows bigger and bigger in double digits, Stanford will gain more confidence. Stanford lost that edge as they became champions and now that championship is gone. For them to regain that title, they must find a way to escape the Coliseum with a win. Plunkett and Elway never did it and Luck never won the Pac-12 title so when I say that this is THE GAME for Hogan to lead the way, I mean it. Stanford could lose 55-17 and make the college football world happy but I say let's make Sark drink himself to sleep Saturday and make the voters cringe. We've seen this story before, now let's go back to the future and do it again.