Stanford’s most impressive win of the season has it in the driver’s seat for another berth in the Pac-12 championship game.
Resurgent Southern California is looking to rekindle its own chances.
After knocking off the second-ranked team in the nation, the No. 5 Cardinal look to put themselves on the cusp of playing for a second straight conference title by beating the host Trojans for a fifth consecutive time Saturday night.
Stanford (8-1, 6-1) stunned Oregon on Nov. 7, scoring the first 26 points of a 26-20 win to drop the Ducks from the ranks of the unbeaten.
The Cardinal lead the North Division by a half-game on No. 6 Oregon, so wins in their two remaining conference games would assure them of reaching - and possibly hosting - the Pac-12 title game on Dec. 7 for the second year in a row.
After facing the Trojans (7-3, 4-2), Stanford will host last-place California next weekend. It concludes the regular season with a visit from Notre Dame on Nov. 30.
“I think we’re at that point in the season now where we can’t afford to go up and down,” coach David Shaw said. “It’s November, and there’s only one way you can play in November, and that’s all-out.”
With Stanford ranked fourth in the BCS Poll, winning the three remaining games could put it back in the national championship picture after its surprising mid-October loss at Utah.
“(The BCS) is all hypothetical scenarios. It doesn’t matter at this point. We lose a game, whew, it’s all for naught,” linebacker Shayne Skov said. “The recipe for us ending up anywhere relevant is for us to win the rest of our football games.”
Stanford hasn’t had problems beating USC lately, winning four straight meetings and three in a row at the Los Angeles Coliseum. The No. 21 Cardinal outrushed the No. 2 Trojans 202-26 in a 21-14 win in Palo Alto on Sept. 15, 2012, and won their most recent visit to the Coliseum 56-48 in three overtimes in 2011.
Lane Kiffin was leading USC in those games, but his September firing seemed to revive the 2013 Trojans. Southern California has won three in a row and four of five since Kiffin was replaced by interim coach Ed Orgeron.
Those four victories have come in conference play, boosting the Trojans’ chances of reaching the title game. They’re tied with 13th-ranked UCLA for second in the South, one game back of No. 21 Arizona State.
USC visits last-place Colorado next week before hosting the Bruins in the regular-season finale Nov. 30.
The Trojans will have to hope their offense can perform as well at home Saturday as it has on the road the past two weeks. USC totaled 988 total yards - 498 rushing - over the last two games, and put up 41 first-half points last week in a 62-28 rout of Cal.
Special teams also played a vital role. Nelson Agholor returned two punts for touchdowns, including a 93-yarder in the second quarter - just over three minutes after Josh Shaw returned a blocked punt 14 yards for a score.
Cody Kessler has sparked USC during its winning streak by completing 74.3 percent of his passes for 9.24 yards per attempt with four TDs and one interception.
He’s been helped greatly by sophomore tailback Javorius Allen, who has gained 268 yards on 22 carries with five touchdowns in November wins at Oregon State and Cal.
Getting that type of production against Stanford seems unlikely. The Cardinal allow a conference-low 98.7 rushing yards per game and held Oregon to 62 - the Ducks’ lowest total on the ground since September 2009.
The Cardinal boast their own terrific running game, averaging 205.0 yards with Tyler Gaffney leading the way. The senior is third in the Pac-12 with 1,043 yards while averaging 4.9 per carry with 14 total touchdowns.
He’s reached the end zone seven times in the past four games, including a 2-yard plunge against Oregon. That was one of Gaffney’s team-record 45 carries for 157 yards.
With 103 carries in the past three games, Gaffney has made Kevin Hogan’s job easy. Hogan went 18 for 25 for 227 yards against UCLA on Oct. 19, but only threw 31 total passes - completing 15 for 191 yards and no TDs - against Oregon State and Oregon.