When asking Stanford players and fans who their biggest rival is, you might expect them to say Cal, their local and perennial rival. Or maybe most would say Oregon, Stanford’s biggest competition in the Pac-12 North. However, both of these guesses are incorrect. According to Stanford fans and players, their biggest rival is USC. How did this animosity come to be? Let’s look at the last 10 years of this matchup.
2006: 42-0 USC
Oregon State scored a shocking upset in Corvallis the week beforehand to ruin USC’s undefeated record, and the Trojans had dropped from #3 to #9. However, the Trojans bounced back from the loss well, dominating Stanford in all parts of the game.
Stanford, on the other hand, had lost 8 games in a row, and only had 30 rushing yards on 30 rush attempts. This game was a good representation of the Cardinal’s 2006 season that ended with a 1-11 record.
2007: 24-23 Stanford
This game was supposed to be a easy win for seemingly invincible USC (ranked #2), as Stanford had just come off of a 1-11 season and wasn’t looking much better in 2007. To make matters worse, Stanford’s starting quarterback TC Ostrander was out due to injury. Although USC was the 41 point favorite, Stanford surprised everyone by never trailing by more than 9 points. They reminded everyone that projections don’t mean anything, and that it’s not over until it’s over.
With 52 seconds left in the game, redshirt sophomore Tavita Pritchard threw a game winning touchdown to Mark Bradford in the hostile Los Angeles Coliseum. (The commentator famously remarked, “Touchdown, USC!”) Bradford’s father had just passed away days before.
The 2007 Stanford-USC game has been labelled the “Biggest Upset Ever,” and it’s not difficult to see why.
2008: 45-23 USC
Although this game was tied at halftime, #6 USC didn’t let Stanford pull off another upset. USC ended up finishing the season with a 12-1 record. Stanford went 5-7 for the season, just one win away from a making a bowl game.
2009: 55-21 Stanford
Stanford crushed #11 USC behind Toby Gerhart’s 178 rushing yards. This was USC’s first season with more than 2 losses since 2001.
The game is best summarized in a few quotes:
- "If you guys run power one more time, I'm done, I'm subbing myself out." - USC Defensive Lineman
- "This isn't what we grew up watching...I'm not used to this. ... I don't know what to think right now." - Matt Barkley, USC QB
- “I want to put 50 on these motherf***ers,” - Jim Harbaugh on going for the 2 point conversion when up by 27 points
- “What’s your deal?” - Jim Harbaugh and Pete Carroll after the game
Simply put, the 2009 game was a pivotal moment for both Stanford and USC. It symbolized the rise of one team, and the downfall the other.
2010: 37-35 Stanford
Down one with less than a minute to go, Andrew Luck drove Stanford, who was ranked #16 at the time, down the field and put them in a perfect position to win the game. Nate Whitaker, who had missed an extra point earlier in the game, nailed a game winning field goal.
Stanford’s only loss that season had come a week prior against Oregon, as they finished the season 12-1.
2011: 56-48 Stanford, 3OT
After Andrew Luck threw a pick-6 in the late 4th quarter, it seemed like #6 Stanford might not pull away with a win. However, Stanford stayed persistent and forced the game to overtime. Both teams scored in the first two overtimes, but USC fumbled the ball near the end zone in the third overtime, giving Stanford its 3rd straight win over the Trojans.
2012: 21-14 Stanford
Most people doubted Stanford in the beginning of the 2012 season, believing that they wouldn’t be successful without Andrew Luck or Jim Harbaugh. Defeating #2 USC proved that Stanford was still an elite team that deserved respect, as David Shaw defeated USC for the second time, this time with Josh Nunes as the starting quarterback.
Stanford ended 2012 with a Rose Bowl victory, while USC finished with a disappointing 7-6 record.
2013: 20-17 USC
For once, #4 Stanford was the heavy favorite going into the game, and USC pulled the upset. Turnovers helped cost Stanford the game, including a game-changing interception late in the 4th quarter. USC kicker Andre Heidari, who had missed an extra point in the first quarter, made a game winning field goal and put Stanford’s BCS Championship hopes to rest.
2014: 13-10 USC
Although Stanford made it into field goal range 9 times, they weren’t able put points on the board and capitalize on opportunities. There were also too many costly penalties, most notably a chop block taking away a touchdown that would’ve given Stanford the lead. This game foreshadowed what was to come, as Stanford, with an incredibly talented team, finished the season only 8-5.
2015: 41-31 Stanford
Stanford had to prove themselves after a week one loss to Northwestern that put them out of the rankings. Luckily, they got the job done and defeated #6 USC in the Coliseum. The win was the first time in a long time that Stanford’s offense seemed to click, with a great performance by Kevin Hogan, and almost every receiver, tight end, and running back making big plays.
2015 Pac-12 Championship: 41-22 Stanford
Unlike their first matchup of the 2015, #7 Stanford was the favorite to beat #20 USC. Christian McCaffrey’s 312 yard performance broke the long-standing record of most all-purpose yards in a season, previously held by Barry Sanders, and provided Stanford with the momentum they needed going into the Rose Bowl. USC finished an 8-5 season, with 2 of their losses coming against Stanford. (Is there anything better than beating USC twice in one season?)
Total number of wins since 2006: Stanford 7, USC 4
Stanford and USC have played in thrilling games over the last decade, as well as spoiled each others seasons. How will this season’s game will be etched in the history book of this great rivalry?