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Staff Predictions: #17 USC Trojans vs. #10 Stanford Cardinal

NCAA Football: Pac-12 Championship-Southern California vs Stanford John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports


The defense needs to establish the pass rush early for USC to have a chance, but it won’t be enough.

The game against UNLV last week was great win for USC, but an expected one nonetheless. A rematch of last season’s nerve-racking Pac-12 Title game will be the first true test for freshman JT Daniels—one where can ill-afford to make freshman mistakes. Now this doesn’t mean Stanford’s defense is one to fear, but Daniels is going to have to keep the Trojans on pace with Stanford’s explosive offense.

Even though early Heisman candidate did relatively nothing in first game this season, 18 carries for 29 yards, he had two excellent outings against the Trojans last season combining for 285 yards and two touchdowns. It would be poor preparation for USC to not expect the real Bryce Love to show up in this critical early season matchup.

With JJ Arcega-Whiteside laying early claim to the Biletnikoff Award and KJ Costello on the rise, Stanford will give this Trojan defense all they can handle—I expect it to be too much for them.

This isn’t the same Trojan team that narrowly beat the Cardinal in early-December, but this is the same Stanford squad. Expect the offense to struggle in USC’s first loss of the season as Stanford explodes 31-16 on a young Trojan team.


USC and Stanford face off in what will be a nationally televised Pac-12 match-up, one that USC must win to impress voters and the nation as a whole.

Last week’s win against UNLV obviously didn’t impress the country, with USC dropping two spots in the latest AP Poll. Besides three or four big plays, a fake punt here, a fake reverse there, the Trojan defense played relatively well against UNLV. USC allowed just one score in the last half of play. On the game, the Trojans won first downs, time of possession, and out-gained UNLV as well. Though USC did not win as convincingly as many expected, the game would have been put away early if not for big plays in the first half.

Having allowed big plays on mistakes against a lesser UNLV team, defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast will have plenty of bulletin board material. I expect USC to play a clean defensive game. Iman Marshall will be one of the most talented corners JJ Arcega-Whiteside plays all season. The USC front will play with lane discipline against a talented Stanford offensive line.

The game is slow for stretches. KJ Costello will make several plays with his arm. Each team will vacillate between not being able to move the ball and scoring quickly.

Marshall ultimately holds Arcega-Whiteside to fewer than 80 yards. JT Daniels goes out wins ugly. USC wins, but fails to make a statement: 27-24.


After a less than stellar season opener, can USC replicate their last two performances and defeat a top ten Stanford team?

This is where we are going to find out about this USC team. Week 2 game on the road against a top ten team on national television. The Trojans didn’t really impress many last week against UNLV and left some fans concerned heading into this game. Stanford didn’t look too impressive against San Diego State last week so Saturday will be a statement game for both teams.

Stanford’s star running back Bryce Love was bottled up for 29 yards and will face a USC defense who gave up over 300 yards on the ground to the Rebels. Love has rushed for 285 yards and two scores in the two games against the Trojans. The Cardinal is going to look to get him going against this Trojans defense.

All eyes will also be on USC true freshman quarterback JT Daniels. First test of the season against a tough opponent in Stanford. Daniels rallied through a rough first half to finish the game strong. This week look for the playbook to open a little more for him in this game.

I feel this game will be a close one, however I have a hard time seeing USC coming out of this one with a win. Stanford gets the running game going with Bryce Love on the way to a Stanford victory.

USC-20 Stanford-27


Both Stanford and USC needed time to shake off some rust last week. For Stanford, J.J. Arcega-Whiteside stepped up, making six catches for 226 yards and three touchdowns. Stanford outscored San Diego State 22-3 in the second half to win 31-10. Meanwhile, USC outscored UNLV 24-7 in the 4th quarter, in which quarterback JT Daniels looked much more comfortable as USC won 43-21.

However, both teams were exposed in certain areas. Stanford struggled with their run game when San Diego State put extra defenders in the box. If Arcega-Whiteside hadn’t dominated the one-on-one matchups, Stanford could have been in trouble. Iman Marshall will be a much tougher matchup for Arcega-Whiteside this week.

For USC, they were torched on the ground, giving up 308 yards rushing. It doesn’t get easier as they will be facing last year’s Heisman runner-up in Bryce Love. Daniels also seemed to lack chemistry with starting wide receivers Tyler Vaughns and Michael Pittman Jr.

Expect a relatively low scoring, close game. A slow start offensively for both teams seems likely. But Stanford has the potential to blowout USC if Arcega-Whiteside plays like he did last week and Love returns to Heisman form.

Stanford 27, USC 23


This will be a close and tight-knit game throughout. Both Pac-12 teams are coming off of dominant wins against unranked teams, but this one should be lower scoring and much different in general.

Star Stanford running back Bryce Love is off to a slow start, only managing 29 rushing yards on 18 carries against San Diego State in Stanford’s season opener. Cameron Smith and the rest of the Trojan front seven need to be able to keep Love cool in order to greatly increase their chances of winning this crucial divisional matchup.

Iman Marshall will definitely have his hands full with JJ Arcega-Whiteside, who went off last week with 226 receiving yards and three scores. Cardinal quarterback KJ Costello has a very talented arm, and the Trojan secondary will need to step up their game in order to keep the Cardinal offense, which has a lot of potential, quiet on Saturday night.

I’m not too concerned about the offense, as JT Daniels should be able to hook up with Amon-Ra St. Brown for a couple more scores this week. The Mater Dei connection is real, and the chemistry these two have is nothing short of incredible. However, I really would like to see Daniels work on getting the ball to his other weapons in Michael Pittman Jr. and Tyler Vaughns more and build on that, because he cannot just keep on throwing to St. Brown — defenses will quickly adjust to that.

This game should be competitive the whole way through, but USC should be able to pull away at the end with a late score and start a win streak.

USC — 31 Stanford — 27


The highly anticipated, prime time match up against the No. 17 Ranked USC Trojans and No. 10 Stanford Cardinals is finally among us. Or as the students like to call it, “The Weekender”.

After beating the Cardinals to take home the Pac-12 Championship last season, the Trojans look to continue this success. Unlike last year, the Trojans will be without the likes of Sam Darnold, Ronald Jones II, and Deontay Burnett. Instead, the Trojans will look to rely on a new trio of players, featuring JT Daniels, Vavae Malepeai, and Amon-Ra St. Brown, who all had outstanding performances last week against the UNLV Rebels.

The Trojans’ defense will not have an easy task. Going up against Heisman hopeful Bryce Love, who had 2118 rushing yards last year, the defense will have their hands full. Cardinal quarterback KJ Costello is no walk in the park either, as the rising junior passed for 332 yards and four touchdowns last week against San Diego State.

I believe that both the arms of Daniels and Costello will come out firing, and make this an early offensive shootout. The Trojan defense that gave up 303 yards on the ground last week will have trouble containing Love in the first half. As a result, Porter Gustin will fire up the defense at half time, and limit Love to short yardage runs the rest of the game. The Cardinal defense will start to figure out the Trojan offense as well, and shut down wide receiver St. Brown.

On the team’s final drive, Daniels will lead the Trojans into field goal range to allow the reigning Pac-12 Special Teams Player of the Week, Chase McGrath, to kick the game winning field goal. The Trojans squeeze out the victory, 34-33.


When the USC Trojans play the Stanford Cardinal, it is always a physical game. This year’s battle will need to be won in the trenches. Stanford’s experienced defensive line will be going up against a young and shaky offensive line. The Trojan offense can not afford to start slow like they did against UNLV, red zone efficiency is their biggest threat to having a successful game against the Cardinal.

Surprisingly I am not worried about a JT Daniels, shocking that a true freshman quarterback in his first road rival game isn’t my biggest worry right? Here’s why I’m not worried about Daniels, for one, he looked extremely comfortable in last weeks game, even when he missed his target. Daniels made smart decisions with the football, which is saying something for an 18 year old who graduated a year early from high school. Even after the “fumble” that turned out not to be a turnover, Daniels’ next play was a 43-yard bomb for a touchdown.

Daniels also had very good pass protection, USC’s offensive line has definitely shown improvement in that area from last season. Have I also mentioned the receiving weapons the young gunslinger has to throw to? Needless to say, as long as they clean up their red zone efficiency and minor receiver timing issues, I’m not worried about USC’s attack through the air. I predict Daniels will throw a touchdown pass to Amon-Ra St. Brown, Tyler Vaughns, and Michael Pittman Jr., showing fans just what this pass attack can be.

The ground attack is where it gets tricky. Yes Aca’Cedric Ware rushed for 100 yards, but it took a half for the offensive line to really create some holes for the running backs. The Trojan coaching staff historically tends to keep hammering the run even if it’s not working, giving up chances for key first downs they could take throw the air. While establishing the run is an important key for the offense to be successful, it is not the end all be all, especially with the quarterback and wide receivers USC has. I think the Trojans will have trouble establishing the run for it to be a major factor in the offense’s scoring capabilities, and the coaches will have to open up the playbook and let Daniels take the reigns. Now that’s not to say none of the running backs will score, I just don’t think it will be off big breakaways. Look for short runs into the end zone from inside the 10-yard line.

We all know who Bryce Love is and what he can do, and just because he was held to only 29 yards last week, doesn’t mean it will happen again on Saturday. In fact, I think Love will find his rhythm early and the USC defense will make adjustments to be able to hold him back for the rest of the game. That being said, I still think Love will get close to 100 yards on the Trojans.

USC’s defense needs to do these three things to take pressure off the offense:

  1. Tame Love.
  2. Pressure quarterback KJ Costello with the strength and speed of Porter Gustin and Christian Rector.
  3. Have Iman Marshall take away the threat of the Cardinal’s leading receiver JJ Arcega-Whiteside.

If the defense can do that, then I have full faith in a loaded Trojan offense to handle their business. USC silences the Stanford band in Palo Alto 28-21.


Last season, K.J. Costello and Bryce Love came extremely close to defeating Sam Darnold and the Trojans in the Pac-12 Championship game. They may have lost by a field goal, but they return to Stanford in 2019 poised with more experience and confidence. This is why USC must keep the game close in the first half, or else the veteran leadership of Stanford could blow the game open quickly. After all, last weeks high performers of the Trojan offense were true freshman teenagers JT Daniels and Aman-Ra St. Brown. Tomorrow will certainly be the most difficult game they have played to this point in their young careers, so it is crucial that the team is sharp to the start the game. As the leader of the offense, Daniels will be responsible for building the teams momentum in the first half.

If Stanford wins, it could be a blowout. However, if USC does pull out a win, expect an extremely close game to the finish.


35-20 Stanford defeats USC


If you’re into trends, you’re not going to like the sound of USC as an underdog. Last season, the Trojans were only underdog twice. Both ended in coach Clay Helton’s team losing by double-digits. Needless to say, the Trojans didn’t covered.

I don’t expect that to be the case Saturday night in Palo Alto, where USC will enter as six-point underdogs. After the Trojans struggled to put away Western Michigan in last year’s season opener, many expected Stanford to come into the Coliseum the ensuing game and defeat its opponent with ease. That was not the case.

Quarterback Sam Darnold put together one of his most effective performances of last season, leading USC to a 42-21 blowout victory of the Cardinal. Many think that Helton held a lot back in the opener against Western Michigan and it’s likely he did the same thing last week against UNLV.

With that said, there are plenty of question marks surrounding the Trojans going into the Farm. For one, if USC gives up 300 rushing yards to Stanford, the Trojans have no chance of leaving with a victory. Chances are that defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast and USC’s defense will bounce back from that dreadful showing against the run against the Rebels.

On offense, USC is going to need the running game to get going but it’s going to be vital for all the receivers not named Amon-Ra St. Brown to step up. Like Stanford’s JJ Arcega-Whiteside, St. Brown has emerged as USC’s go-to receiver. But in order to win a game against a rival like Stanford, other guys like Tyler Vaughns, Michael Pittman Jr. and Trevon Sidney will need to contribute more than they did last week against UNLV. If they can and USC can limit Arcega-Whiteside, the Trojans leave Palo Alto with a third-straight victory over the Tree.

Prediction: USC 34, Stanford 27