Rather than give a long-winded introduction, I’m just going to come right out and say it: USC is now Stanford’s biggest rival. It has surpassed Cal as Enemy No. 1 on the Farm, and rightly so.
Personally, I hate USC. I hate everything about USC. I hate its fans, who were quick to abandon the program as soon as it lost a couple of games. I hate its marching band, which decided to mock Stanford’s fight song at the last football game. I hate its players, who are on the take from agents and have difficult classes on their schedule like ballroom dance. I hate its fight song–it’s just obnoxious. I hate how it has subsumed its academic integrity in order to, in the words of Pete Carroll, “win forever.”
More broadly, USC personifies everything that Stanford is not–hell, it’s even in the name (Southern California). USC represents glamour and Hollywood; Stanford has Bay Area cool. USC exists to party; Stanford takes its academics seriously. USC is located in bustling Los Angeles; Stanford exists in tranquil Palo Alto. Alumni from the Farm go on to start innovative companies and take leadership roles in society, while one of USC’s more famous alums founded Girls Gone Wild (which, coincidentally, features its fair share of USC coeds) and ended up in prison. Last but not least, even the mascots betray big differences: Stanford’s is a color, while USC gets a condom brand.
Of course, I’m not going to deny that USC’s run in the past decade as the dominant football program on the West Coast has something to do with this phenomenon. Because the Trojans were so good for so long, it makes it that much more fun to see its program in tatters, its reputation tarnished by scandal and its on-field product a laughable shadow of its former self. It also makes us feel vindicated; we weren’t as good as USC, but at least Stanford (and the rest of the Pac-10) didn’t win by cheating.
However, even if USC hadn’t been quite as dominant, the Trojans would have still evolved into Stanford’s biggest rival. The vast majority of college rivalries in the U.S. today are based chiefly on history, and Stanford’s rivalry with Cal is no exception. Stanford was founded across the Bay from Berkeley, and the two schools played their first football game in 1892. The geographical proximity of the two schools and longstanding animosity are the primary reasons why most still consider Cal to be Stanford’s biggest rival.
However, today Cal and Stanford share a great deal more than they once did, which has contributed to a thaw of sorts. Though it might be heresy on the Farm to say so out loud, UC-Berkeley has an extremely strong academic program–some of its departments even rival Stanford. It is undoubtedly the finest public university in the U.S. and has a geographically and culturally diverse student body, its own fair share of Nobel laureates and some of the country’s finest physics research labs (the same ones used by the Manhattan Project).
Stanford and Cal also share a lot of the same culture, even if Berkeley is a little more “out there” than Palo Alto. Stanford students don’t seem to hold any particular grudge against Cal students, and except in the week leading up to Big Game, USC hatred is much more manifest on campus than animosity toward the Golden Bears.
That brings us to the final reason why USC, not Cal, is Stanford’s biggest rival today: the differences in each school’s student body. Stanford and Cal students share much more than their counterparts in southern California. USC is the type of school that “Animal House” could have been about; it is dominated by its fraternity scene, and while I’m sure there are some USC students who are concerned about actually getting an education, it’s not the prevailing culture in Los Angeles. Stanford, on the other hand, is your stereotypical “nerd” school, and while some might cringe at that characterization, I fully embrace it. After all, I came to Stanford because of its academic prestige, and many students attend Cal for the same reason.
In today’s world, USC, not Cal, is the antithesis of Stanford. It represents everything that we are not, and there is no shame in reveling more in the Trojans’ downfall than in the Golden Bears’ struggles. I look forward to the day when this rivalry is finally recognized as one of college football’s best, not because of historical hatred (although there is plenty of that), but because of a genuine animosity that has exploded and prevails today.
Kabir Sawhney has never actually watched Girls Gone Wild to know about those USC coeds, of course. Send him your favorite videos at ksawhney “at” stanford.edu.