This Saturday in the Pac-12 Championship Game, No. 7 Stanford (10-2, 8-1 Pac-12) will face No. 24 USC (8-4, 6-3) for the second time this season. Stanford’s Kevin Hogan and USC’s Cody Kessler have been two of the best quarterbacks in the conference this year, and with both seniors playing in what will be their penultimate college game — at least certainly for Kessler — and both sides having banged-up defenses, it should be a memorable quarterback duel. Between Hogan and Kessler, who means more to their team, and who will have the better night on Saturday? We asked Daily writers Sandip Srinivas, Do-Hyoung Park and Neel Ramachandran for their thoughts.
Sandip Srinivas: In their respective divisions, Kevin Hogan and Cody Kessler are the quarterbacks with the highest number of career starts. These are two quarterbacks that have, to a certain degree, become the faces of this conference over the last few years. So yeah, to me, this matchup seems like a pretty big deal.
David Shaw has been talking all year about how much Kevin Hogan’s leadership has meant to Stanford, and his performance for the ages against Notre Dame only solidified that. But Kessler has been invaluable in his own regard: I for one have been really surprised by how USC has played following the Sarkisian fallout, and while his stat line might not totally convey it, Kessler seems like a big part of the reason why. USC’s chance to spoil Stanford’s playoff bid rests on Kessler, especially with Stanford’s depleted secondary, and though the Trojans might not prevail, Kessler will certainly be the one to give them a shot.
Do-Hyoung Park: A major part of why Stanford was able to storm the Coliseum in September and dispatch the then-No. 6 Trojans was because Kevin Hogan was able to outduel Cody Kessler in a battle of quarterbacks. But that’s not what Saturday’s game will become. With USC down two of its better linebackers in Cameron Smith and Lamar Dawson, the Cardinal are poised for a more successful day on the ground, and I’d be surprised if Stanford’s offense doesn’t run through Christian McCaffrey. And though Cody Kessler has had a few shaky weeks, Stanford will still be playing without Ronnie Harris, and USC might be the team most able to take advantage of weak opposing secondaries.
All that’s to say that it’s impossible to say who will have the “better night” because they’re going to be asked to do two completely different things: Kessler will almost certainly have a better statistical night because USC will throw the ball far more than Stanford will, even if it is getting back to its power run identity. Hogan will almost certainly be more efficient on his, like, 10 pass attempts. So what I’m saying is that this is a dumb question and I refuse to give a straight answer because it’s impossible to compare the two on an equivalent scale. Both should have pretty good days, though.
Neel Ramachandran: I tend to agree with Do here — it’s hard to compare the two quarterbacks, because they play in entirely different systems. On the season, Kessler has over 100 more pass attempts and almost nine attempts more per game than Hogan. USC possesses weapons in the passing game of the likes of JuJu Smith-Schuster, whose 1,302 receiving yards rank him among the nation’s best. Meanwhile, Stanford’s bread-and-butter is the run, which makes sense, given the fact that it has one of the best offensive lines and running backs in the country.
In my mind, Kessler will undoubtedly have the better night statistically — he throws the ball more, and has a great receiving core that matches up favorably against Stanford’s banged-up secondary. Notre Dame quarterback DeShone Kizer had no trouble moving the ball through the air when the Fighting Irish needed to last week, and Kessler, a more talented passer than Kizer, will do the same. While I think Kessler will have the “better” night, that doesn’t necessarily indicate that he means more to his team — like Sandip said, Hogan has proved time and again that his leadership is invaluable, and his command of the offense will be sorely missed next season.
Contact Sandip Srinivas at sandips ‘at’ stanford.edu, Do-Hyoung Park at dhpark ‘at’ stanford.edu and Neel Ramachandran at neelr ‘at’ stanford.edu.