Cody Kessler came into the 2015 season with heavy expectations on his shoulders. As the quarterback of the USC Trojans, he gets plenty of the spotlight when it comes to award watchlists and was a favorite for many to contend for a Heisman Trophy this December. So far, he has not disappointed, dominating in the first two games of the season (against overmatched opposition). But Kessler's Heisman candidacy will truly get started this Saturday when he gets a chance to prove he's the real deal against a rebuilt Stanford Cardinal defense.
There's no denying that Kessler has been phenomenal to start the season. He's averaging 325 yards passing per game so far (12th best in the nation) while completing 78.9 percent of this throws (5th) and throwing seven touchdowns (4th) and zero interceptions. His passer rating of 215.27 is the second best rating in the country behind only the red-hot Chad Kelly of the Ole Miss Rebels. He is, simply put, playing at an elite level worthy of the Heisman hype.
But those numbers have come against soft competition. The Arkansas State Red Wolves currently rank No. 86 in pass defense after two games and the Idaho Vandals rank No. 125 as clearly overmatched members of the Sun Belt Conference who currently sit at a combined 0-4. They aren't going to be the type of teams to put on Kessler's Heisman highlight reel if he's hoping to impress the voters.
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Stanford, on the other hand, is a true test that carries some weight. Despite their season-opening 16-6 loss to the Northwestern Wildcats, the Cardinal defense is as solid as ever despite replacing eight starters from 2014. They currently rank No. 1 in the Pac-12 in total defense, allowing just 255.5 yards per game and 3.55 yards per play (8th best mark in the nation) while allowing just 11.5 points per game. They currently sit as the No. 15 pass defense in the country, allowing just 128 yards through the air and one passing touchdown in their first two games.
Of course, they have yet to play an offense like Kessler and the Trojans.
Basically, Saturday is a proving ground for everyone involved. Stanford has the look of a strong defense yet again and Kessler has the beginnings of a Heisman run brewing. If USC's senior quarterback wants to make a serious early splash, he will need to come up big against a Cardinal defense that has played him tough and prove his early success is a product of his talent and not simply soft scheduling.