Thanks for the memories. With Stanford’s highly anticipated Pac-12 opener against USC less than a week away, football analysts Vihan Lakshman, Alexa Philippou and Andrew Mather answer a question a day about the Cardinal’s Week 1 performance against Kansas State and the impending battle with the Trojans.
Today’s question: Stanford has had some very memorable showdowns with USC in the last decade. Which of those games was your favorite and which contest will this year’s matchup most resemble?
Vihan Lakshman: The word “favorite” means something different to a fan and to a journalist and since we like to think of ourselves as a respectable publication over here, I’m going to put on the latter hat in answering this question. As a fan, the 2013 Stanford-USC showdown that killed Stanford’s dreams of a national title made me sad to the point where I couldn’t get out of bed the next day. It’s the only time in my life where I’ve cried after watching a sporting event. But, as a storyteller, how can you not love that game? USC, like a bearded, milk-drinking Ron Burgundy, had completely lost its swagger and was still reeling in the downward spiral of sanctions before interim coach Ed Orgeron reinvigorated a program and a fanbase, motivating an undermanned Trojans squad to fight the best team in the Pac-12 to the very end. Then, when the upset was complete, the USC faithful stormed the field of the Coliseum for the first time since 1999. Objectively speaking, how can you not love that scene?
As for this season, though, I envision a low-scoring struggle in the mold of USC’s 13-10 victory in 2014. Much like that game, I expect both defenses to dominate the day as each side continues to figure out exactly who they are on offense. With abundant star power headlined by Christian McCaffrey and the Trojans’ JuJu Smith-Schuster, look for both teams to find the end zone more often this time around, but I have a feeling this game will center around numerous stops and a joust for field position.
Andrew Mather: The Stanford-USC rivalry is full of so many twists and turns that it’s hard to imagine any previous game will serve as much of an archetype for this one. Last September’s matchup seems like a good example in terms of competitiveness and general scoreline, but perhaps with much of Kevin Hogan’s massive performance last year shifted to the shoulders of McCaffrey. The “favorite” part of this question isn’t nearly as hard, however: Not many football games compare to the miracle of October 2007. Even though I wasn’t even a Stanford fan at the time — to be honest, I half remember rooting for the other guy — it’s hard to understate how much of a legacy that moment has left, reigniting a rivalry that had been competitively dormant for half a century before that.
What I like most about that game, however, is that every passing year seems to help us understand it a little bit differently. It’s rare to see a confluence of characters like on that day in 2007, and every Jim Harbaugh tweet and Richard Sherman outburst adds just a little bit more intrigue to an already astonishing memory.
Alexa Philippou: I don’t like admitting it, but I didn’t really pay attention to Stanford football before arriving on the Farm for school in the fall of 2014. (I’m from the East Coast with no legacy! Stanford wasn’t on my radar! Forgive me for my sins!) I bring this up to highlight that I don’t have a large sample size of Stanford-USC games to work with (my Stanford football consciousness only includes the 2014 loss and pair of wins in 2015). I would say my favorite contest from my experience with this rivalry would be the regular season game from last season — more so for sentimental reasons than anything else. After a disappointing 2014 and a rough 16-6 loss to Northwestern in Week 1, expectations for Stanford were not very optimistic going into the matchup (i.e., I was fully expecting to lose). But the Cardinal proved the naysayers wrong. Hope was suddenly injected into the season, as it was the first time that year that fans got a glimpse of what was to come — eventually, a Pac-12 Championship and No. 3 end-of-season national ranking. And for that initial spark of brilliance, I will forever hold that game dear to my heart.
Though to answer the second half of the question, I’d have to agree with Vihan. Don’t expect these defenses to give up a combined 72 points.
Contact Vihan Lakshman at vihan ‘at’ stanford.edu, Andrew Mather at amather ‘at’ stanford.edu and Alexa Philippou at aphil723 ‘at’ stanford.edu.