Last Updated: 2017-11-30
When the No. 10 USC Trojans (10-2) faced the No. 12 Stanford Cardinal (9-3) in Week 2, they gave the Cardinal their worst beating of the year. The 42-24 victory was a decisive result that had the Trojans headed towards a College Football Playoff berth. However, the win was immediately downgraded in Week 3. The Cardinal returned to the field and lost a three-point game to the San Diego State Aztecs. Later on in the season, the Cardinal lost another three-point game to the Washington State Cougars. During that span, the Trojans also lost a pair of games to the Cougars and Notre Dame Fighting Irish. As a result, the selection committee will be hard pressed to find a way to put the PAC-12 Champion winner in the College Football Playoff.
Think about it in these terms. The Trojans are one three-point loss away from vying for a legitimate College Football Playoff berth. Meanwhile, the Cardinal are two three-point losses away from the same opportunity. If both teams came into the PAC-12 Championship with one loss, the rematch would have so much more to offer. Instead, the PAC-12 doesn’t get the credit, cache and awareness of other leagues.
Quarterback Sam Darnold punished the Cardinal in what should be considered their best performance of the season. Darnold threw for 316 yards on 21-of-26 completions. He also had season high 4 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. Remember, Darnold threw nine interceptions in the first six contests. He’s only thrown three more interceptions the rest of the year. Therefore, the Cardinal should see an improved quarterback. Although Darnold had a season high in touchdown passes, he’s been incredible down the stretch.
Furthermore, Stanford was gashed for 307 rushing yards and two touchdowns. When the Trojans are at their best, they are a dominant ground team. So far, they have three 300-yard rushing games in 2017. They also finished the regular season with 26 rushing touchdowns. Ronald Jones led the way with 1,346 yards and 16 touchdowns. Jones may not get the credit, but he’s just as explosive as Bryce Love. They both have 16 rushing touchdowns in 2017. Jones can also become a dynamic weapon in the passing game. He made 12 receptions for 159 yards and 1 touchdown.
Overall, the Cardinal had a few subpar defensive games against the pass. They lost to the Trojans as well as the Cougars due to big plays in the air. However, they held off UCLA in a shootout. All three teams combined for 10 touchdown passes. Keep in mind, the Cardinal held five teams to zero touchdown passes. In all, the Cardinal gave up 15 touchdown passes. As a result, the Trojans really want to get the passing game off the ground again.
That means Deontay Burnett needs to have a huge game. Burnett leads the Trojans with 73 receptions for 966 yards and 9 touchdowns. He torched the Cardinal for 9 receptions, 121 yards and 2 touchdowns in the first meeting. It was 1 of 2 multiple touchdown games for Burnett. If the Cardinal are going to keep the point spread within single digits, containing Burnett may be the key to the game. However, he’s not the only gifted receiver on the Trojans. They have seven double digit pass catchers that average between 11 and 14.8 yards per catch.
Despite the blowout in Week 2, the Trojans are only four point favorites in Friday night’s game. It’s the first of the Power 5 conference championship contests and it might be the best played game of the weekend. Unfortunately, the winner of the game will most likely have to settle for the New Years Six Bowls.