(2) USC (2-0) at (21) Stanford (2-0)
Saturday, September 15, 7:30 p.m. (et)
The Sports Network
By Scott Haynes, Senior College Football Editor
GAME NOTES: The second-ranked USC Trojans return to the west coast, as they open up Pac-12 play on the road this weekend against the 21st-ranked Stanford Cardinal.
The Trojans took on Big East foe Syracuse in East Rutherford, NJ last weekend and fought the weather and the Orange, earning a hard-fought 42-29 win at MetLife Stadium on a rainy afternoon. With the win, Lane Kiffin's squad moved to 2-0 heading into conference play, where they are viewed as the favorite to win the Pac-12 crown.
The Cardinal no longer have two-time Heisman finalist Andrew Luck running the show, but David Shaw's squad is still piling up the wins, knocking off San Jose State in the opener (20-17), followed by last weekend's 50-13 rout of Duke. Despite the big win over the Blue Devils, Shaw sees room for improvement.
"We won big on the scoreboard. But we can play so much better. The way we played tonight, we still wouldn't beat USC."
Stanford represents USC's oldest rival, as the series dates back to 1905. USC holds a substantial lead at 59-28-3 all-time, but Stanford has won each of the last three meetings and four of the last five overall.
The Trojans have some of the best offensive talent in the country and that talent has risen to the occasion in the first two weeks. The team is averaging 460 yards of total offense per game, with great balance.
It all starts with senior QB Matt Barkley though, as the veteran signal-caller has gotten his Heisman campaign off to a strong start, completing 67.6 percent of his throws thus far, for 559 yards, with 10 TDs and just one INT. In the win over Syracuse, Barkley tied the school record with six TD passes, three to sophomore sensation Marqise Lee and two to All-American wideout Robert Woods. Two of the nation's premier receivers, Lee (21 receptions, 263 yards, four TDs) and Woods (16 receptions, 135 yards, four TDs) have been unstoppable thus far and were responsible for 21 of Barkley's 23 completions against Syracuse.
The Trojans have the ability to move the ball on the ground as well, with a pair of capable backs in Silas Redd (6.8 ypc) and Curtis McNeal (4.6 ypc).
The offense is so potent, that any of the skill players have the ability to dominate according to Woods.
"Each and every player on this team is trying to take over. When the game is that close, each player has that mindset, let's take over."
The defense looked much better in its season-opener against Hawaii than last weekend against Syracuse. The team has shown a strong penchant for stopping the run (94.5 ypg), but has given up large chunks of real estate through the air (265.0 ypg), although a lot of that has to do with opponents playing from behind thus far.
Sophomore linebackers Dion Bailey and Hayes Pullard headline the defense. Bailey leads the team in tackles (15), with 2.0 TFLs and two interceptions. Pullard is right behind in total stops (14), with one INT he returned for a touchdown against Hawaii. Junior defensive end Morgan Breslin and freshman tackle Leonard Williams are tied for the team lead with two sacks each. Senior safety T.J. McDonald (11 tackles, 2.0 TFLs) anchors the secondary.
The Stanford offense is a work in progress this season, as the team transitions from a star QB in Luck to senior Josh Nunes, who has served as Luck's understudy for his first three seasons. The 6-foot-4, 225-pounder has completed 57.1 percent of his passes, for 400 yards, and four TDs. In the win over Duke, Nunes had some strong moments, completing 16-of-30 passes, for 275 yards and three TDs.
Nunes will get better as the season progresses, especially with veteran tailback Stepfan Taylor taking some of the pressure off the passing game. The 5-11 senior is averaging 4.6 yards per carry and has scored two TDs thus far.
The Cardinal have been stout against the run this season, but they did show some vulnerability against Duke's passing attack last weekend (363 yards), something that doesn't bode well with Barkley and company coming to town.
Linebacker Chase Thomas is the leader on the defensive side of the ball and currently ranks second on the team in tackles (12) and TFLs (3.0). Senior cornerback Usua Amanam has gotten off to a fast start, pacing Stanford in tackles (13), TFLs (4.0) and sacks (2.0).
Without Luck under center for the Cardinal, this game really becomes a contest between Barkley and the Stanford defense. The Trojans have come up short in this rivalry of late, but have the ability to make a Pac-12 statement with a big win here.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: USC 31, Stanford 20
09/12 10:42:27 ET