Sports

Stanford-USC kick off Pac-12 season with a big rivalry game

There's no telling what might happen in a football game between Stanford and USC, and that's what makes it all so much fun. Half the team is studying film of Washington to get ready for the Trojans, who visit Stanford Stadium on Saturday for a 12:30 p.m. Pac-12 Conference game to be aired on ABC.

This is just the type of contest to bring out all those fans who love to chant "Beat L.A." whether it's in baseball, basketball, hockey or college football. And there's a limited amount of tickets remaining.

"It's a good California rivalry," Cardinal quarterback Kevin Hogan said. "The northern part against the southern part. We have some Southern California players on our team and they have some Northern California players on their team."

One of those NorCal players is Menlo School grad Zach Smith, the Trojans' sophomore long snapper.

"It will be a good test early on," Stanford defensive end Henry Anderson said. "It's been a good rivalry that goes back and forth. Both teams respect each other a lot as the rivalry has grown over the past few years. It's in full effect."

USC beat the Cardinal last year, ending a four-year Stanford winning streak and nearly costing the Cardinal its chance to advance into the Rose Bowl. Arizona's late upset of Oregon bailed out Stanford.

The Trojans, with first-year coach Steve Sarkisian coming down from Washington, would love to upset Stanford's chances again.

USC, ranked 14th in the nation, also has its sights pinned squarely on the Pac-12 Conference Championship game, to be held at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara. The Trojans are ranked right there with No. 11 UCLA and No. 17 Arizona State in the South Division. The 13th-ranked Cardinal has No. 3 Oregon waiting in the wings for North Division dominance.

Stanford, which beat UC Davis, 45-0, in its season opener last week as Ty Montgomery scored twice, has handed the Trojans some devastating losses in recent years, including the Tavita Pritchard to Mark Bradford fourth-down touchdown pass in the waning moments of the 2007 game in Los Angeles, which has since been dubbed "The Biggest Upset Ever."

Two years later, Toby Gerhart helped start the four-game winning streak with a 55-21 win at USC that was the Trojans' worst home loss in 43 years.

In 2010, it was a field goal by Nate Whitaker as time expired that moved Stanford past USC, 37-35.

The next year, Andrew Luck threw a pick six in the fourth quarter that nearly spelled defeat. Instead, the Cardinal rallied and won in triple overtime as A.J. Tarpley recovered a USC fumble in the end zone for the margin of victory.

Josh Nunes engineered a comeback victory in the 2012 contest and the Cardinal defense held USC to 26 yards rushing.

Andre Heidari kicked a field goal with 19 seconds remaining to put USC over the top in last year's contest.

"It's going to be fun to play," Anderson said. "We're definitely going to have our hands full. They're an explosive offense and I just found out they set a Pac-12 record for number of plays. Their offensive line is really big. We're going to have to fire off the ball to get into the backfield and disrupt their offense before it gets going."

Stanford's offensive line, with three new starters, had some trouble against the Aggies and twice was called for holding.

"You never have to hold if you are in position," Cardinal center Graham Shuler said. "I wasn't in good position and that led to a penalty. We want to blow people off the ball. We want to get removal. We want to be dominant and physical."

Shuler took his first snap when he arrived at Stanford for his first training camp three years ago.

"When I was being recruited the question whether I was tall enough or big enough to play tackle," said Shuler, who grew up an Auburn fan and envisioned playing there. "Coming here, they wanted me to play on the offensive line and they would fit me in, with my best chance at guard or center."

Shuler and Hogan had to work to get in synch with each other.

"Any time you switch centers there is going to be a struggle at first," Hogan said. "Graham is quick. He snaps quick and then starts moving, which is good for the offensive line. I just had to get used to it. Now we're in a good rhythm."

Hogan said the offensive line, with which he shares off-field activities with, is playing with a chip on its collective shoulders.

"They're motivated because all they've heard was how good last year's line was," Hogan said. "They want to show they are an elite group, too."

Shuler has his own family grudge against the Trojans. As an 11-year-old he was at Auburn, with his father, and watched USC beat the Tigers.

"My dad played at Auburn and he always said you had to beat the West Coast teams," Shuler said. "I'm looking forward to playing them this week. It feels a little special because you know it's a conference game and a school in our state."

Stanford coach David Shaw said sophomore inside linebacker Kevin Palma and senior outside linebacker Joe Hemschoot are out for up to two weeks.

Notes

Saturday marks the earliest meeting between these two programs since Stanford's season-opening 24-20 loss at home to No. 6 USC in 1988. The teams have twice met in the season's third week with Stanford winning both at USC (21-16 in 2001) and at Stanford Stadium (21-14 in 2012). Stanford is 2-2 in Pac-12 openers against the Trojans.

Stanford opened its season with a 45-0 rout of UC Davis, setting several milestones in the process: 700th win in program history -- 700-460-52 (.599); David Shaw (35) passed Bill Walsh on Stanford's all-time wins list; Shaw became first Stanford coach to win first four season openers since Glenn "Pop" Warner (1924-27)

Stanford's 17-game home winning streak is the nation's longest streak.

The Cardinal is 38-3 (.927) at Stanford Stadium since the final home game of 2007.

Stanford has won 34 of its past 37 games played in California with a 17-1 record against in-state opponents since 2010. The only losses in the state of California over that stretch came against No. 4 Michigan State in the 2014 Rose Bowl, at USC in 2013 and against visiting No. 6 Oregon in 2011.

Stanford is 13-1 (.929) at home against opponents ranked in either the AP or USA Today Coaches polls since 2009 (4-1 vs. top 10). The lone home loss to a ranked opponent since 2009 was against No. 6 Oregon (2011):

Stanford is 10-1 in its past 11 games against opponents ranked in the AP top 25, including 6-1 in 2013.

Five of the last seven meetings have been decided by eight points or less, including the last four.

Stanford had never scored more than 35 points in its first 86 meetings with USC, but eclipsed the 35-point mark in 2009 (55), 2010 (37) and 2011 (56).

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