1- What were a few things that stood out during Stanford's win over Rice two weeks ago?
It was the opening week, in a unique, almost bowl game type of situation against an inferior opponent, so I don't want to read too much into Stanford's first game nor use it as an accurate predictor for how the rest of the season will play out. I will say I was surprised by the number of freshmen that David Shaw played in that first week. Understand that Coach Shaw does not like to use freshmen. He gave very limited touches to Christian McCaffrey during his freshman season and that was in large part because they just did not have a solution at running back that season. Getting playing time week 1 as a freshmen with David Shaw takes some serious doing so I'm excited to see just how good these younger guys can be.
2- What are some weaknesses that Stanford has coming into this game?
This again is a bit tough to answer because of how thoroughly they dominated an inferior opponent in their opening game. I would expect new weaknesses to be revealed Saturday night when the quality of their competition increases dramatically. I will say that the Cardinal did not look particularly sharp on kick returns against Rice.
3- USC Safety Chris Hawkins said he would rather face Stanford off a bye than them coming off another game. Will the bye week help or hurt the Cardinal?
I am not sure you can definitively say that the bye week will help or hurt Stanford. Last season the Cardinal played an opening week game against Kansas St. then had a bye week in week two before hosting USC in week 3. David Shaw was quite emphatic in his disdain for having a bye week in week two of these season. According to him it was basically like starting the season all over and he did not want to have to deal with the same rust and other issues teams normally deal with in week one while the Trojans had already dealt with theirs the week before. Now it turned out fine for Stanford last year though that result may have had much more to do with the Trojans than having a week off did.
However, this situation is a bit different. The reason why Stanford had the week off was because they had to go to Australia to play and then fly back. Flying to the other side of the planet and getting a large group of college kids who were just on a pseudo vacation/bowl game to get back to California and readjust back to pacific standard time and get them back into the rhythm of going to class and practicing is a bit of a tall order so they may have needed it.
I cannot say if it will help or hurt Stanford, but I would imagine Coach Shaw will have his guys ready to go on Saturday.
4- Stanford lost Christian McCaffery and Solomon Thomas to the NFL. What should we know about their replacements?
No one guy is going to replace everything Christian McCaffrey did for Stanford much in the same way no one person will be able to replace all of the things Adoree Jackson did for USC. Stanford, however, has an excellent combination of running backs who can deliver all of the same things McCaffrey did when the Cardinal has the ball.
Bryce Love is the primary running back now and he will draw many of the comparisons and criticisms to McCaffrey. He is not as dynamic as McCaffrey but he is a much faster runner. Love more than held his own last season when McCaffrey was injured and this year he looks even better. Love's speed is pretty epic and he does not need much of a crease to quickly get 10-15 yards. If the Trojans' rushing defense does not sufficiently improve from last week then Bryce Love may completely take the game over.
Cameron Scarlett is the second running back who is much more of a power runner and compliments Love's speed quite nicely. The duo of Scarlett and Love will likely do the bulk of the damage on offense for the Cardinal.
5- What can we expect from quarterback Keller Chryst?
Keller Chryst took a nasty knee injury last year in the Sun Bowl against North Carolina. Impressively he is now 100% and he seems to have not lost a step.
Last season Chryst took over as the starter at the end of October after the offense struggled mightily with Ryan Burns under center. On the one hand he is undefeated as a starter dating back to last season. On the other hand the defenses he was playing were flat out bad. In those games he was efficient, made high percentage throws and did not turn the ball over. In other words, he did enough to keep the chains moving and help McCaffrey and Love carry the load. We have only really seen him play against the likes of Cal, Oregon, Arizona, Oregon State, and Rice.
This USC team will hands down be the best defense Chryst has faced as a starting QB and Saturday night will be the first major test in his college career. Being an effective QB against bad defenses is one thing, but continuing to perform at that level against the Trojans' defense is a much different story.
6- Stanford beats USC if ______________
Stanford will beat USC if they control the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. In fairness this is true for almost every team ever but given Stanford's style of play dominating on the line is imperative for them to execute their game plan. If they cannot get Love and the running game going, and/or they cant contain RoJo and the USC rushing attack then Stanford likely will not win. If Stanford can get the running game going, and go on their long, methodical drives, dominate the time of possession and slowly wear the defense out then Stanford will likely win.
7- What will a victory mean for the Cardinal this Saturday?
A victory for Stanford would be huge both for the team, and the fans. Stanford struggled last season and had plenty of ugly games where they just did not play well at all. Then they spent the entire offseason hearing about how USC is a playoff contender and that Sam Darnold is Heisman front runner. Meanwhile the only time anyone talked about Stanford was to wonder how bad they would struggle now that McCaffrey and Solomon Thomas are gone. To be able to go into the Coliseum and get a win against a playoff contender would be a huge boost to the team and their confidence.
Likewise many of the Stanford fans had quite a bit of trepidation about the USC game. It is on the road, Sam Darnold is the real deal and the Trojans have looked awfully good as a whole since he took over. Beating the mighty USC on the road would likely change the expectations of many Cardinal fans for the Stanford season.
8- Bold prediction for the game?
This is not a particularly bold prediction but these two teams usually play each other very tight, and it is usually a hard fought physical matchup. I'm expecting a punishing, bruising game that slowly builds into a one score game at the end. Frankly I would not be surprised to see this go into overtime.
As far as predicting a winner it is hard because there are so many question marks. I am quite certain that if USC plays Stanford the way they played Western Michigan then Stanford will win. I highly, highly doubt USC will look anywhere near as sloppy as they did against Western Michigan.
It is far more likely that we see the USC team from the Rose Bowl, or the team that went into Seattle and took it to Washington than the Trojans we saw last Saturday. If that USC shows up against Stanford then I would expect USC to win.