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PAC-12 Championship Preview

USC previously beat Stanford 42-24 earlier in the year

Stanford v USC Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

The last time Stanford and USC played, the Trojans (literally) ran away with a victory and were clearly the better team. The Cardinal couldn’t find a solution for the USC rushing attack and couldn’t put pressure on potential top pick Sam Darnold. Now, however, both teams are not the same teams that faced each other in September.

Ronald Jones II and the Trojans trampled through the Cardinal front seven for 307 yards in their first matchup. Ever since, Stanford’s front seven have made adjustments and become an impressive group. Last week, they shut down Josh Adams and limited the Irish rushing attack. However, the Irish didn’t have one of the nation’s best quarterbacks behind center. Stanford can’t disrespect Sam Darnold and stack the box, or else, he couldmake the defense pay.

Many expected Sam Darnold to compete for the Heisman trophy this year and lead the Trojans to the CFB playoff. It’s safe to say that Darnold has underperformed this year, but he’s still been nothing short of impressive. He’s picked apart secondaries across the PAC-12, but he’s also been picked off. The Cardinal secondary need to force turnovers in order to frustrate Darnold and get the ball back in the hands of Bryce Love.

Stanford’s offense has undergone a huge change since facing the Trojans in September; K.J. Costello now starts at quarterback. Fresh off his best start of the year, Costello will be a difference maker in this game. Bryce Love already tore through the Trojans once this year, and the Trojans will be sure to pay more attention to him this time around. Costello will need to complete passes to his tight ends and receivers up the middle and down the sideline so that USC can’t stack the box. If Costello can’t complete passes, Stanford will lose.

However, there’s no doubt in my mind that Costello will come through for the Cardinal and put pressure off Bryce Love. The Trojan corners have struggled all year, and Costello’s tall targets should be effective at extending drives.

Ultimately though, I think this game will be determined by Stanford’s front seven. Their starting defensive end Eric Cotton is out, and starting linebacker Joey Alfieri is questionable. Both players missed most of the ND game, but that didn’t stop the Cardinal from shutting down the run. I predict that Stanford wins 31-27 in a close one.