SOUTH BEND, IN - OCTOBER 22: Nickell Robey #21 of the University of Southern California Trojans is lifted into the air by Dion Bailey #18 after intercepting a pass against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at Notre Dame Stadium on October 22, 2011 in South Bend, Indiana. USC defeated Notre Dame 31-17. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Stanford and USC square off this weekend in one of the Trojan's biggest games of the year.
With big wins on Saturday, the USC Trojans and Stanford Cardinal set up a showdown at the Coliseum on Saturday that will feature both teams ranked, No. 20 and No. 4 in the AP poll respectively, under the bright lights as the game will be the headliner and shown on prime time television as ESPN's 'Gameday' crew visits Los Angeles.
The opening spread line between both teams has the Cardinal as the favorite to defeat, namely, crush the Trojans at the Coliseum as Stanford is the favorite making USC a nine and a half point underdog.
While that was appalling to myself, it wasn't felt the same by the "experts" who cover college football as you had tweets like this:
"@BryanDFischer: I wouldn't rule out an upset but I'd be surprised if Stanford doesn't beat USC by at least 3 TDs."
Don't get me wrong, I understand this sentiment on the surface as the Cardinal are undefeated and have crushed their opponents by an average of 32 points and should beat the same drum against the Trojans, who are undefeated at home. I understand where these "experts" are coming from. But doing some research behind the numbers Stanford and USC have put on paper thus far shows a different story.
1: Number of teams Stanford has faced that have a record of .500 or better. That's right, Stanford has destroyed teams such as heralded San Jose State (3-4, WAC conference), Duke (3-4, ACC conference), Arizona (2-5), and UCLA (1-5). Let's not forget Colorado (0-4 in the Pac 12) and Washington State (1-3 in Pac 12, 3-4 overall), whom are arguably the 2nd biggest foe Stanford has faced all season.
The Cardinal degraded Washington last Saturday by defeating them 65-21, very impressive as the Huskies entered the game with a 5-1 record. But the Cardinal did allow 430 yards to the Huskies, including 144 yards by running back Chris Polk, which elevated the Cardinal's opponent's rushing yards per game to 75.57. Shocking what a decent opponent does to your numbers.
On the flip side, USC has faced four teams with records above .500.
79.50: Number of rushing yards per game USC has allowed to FBS teams with a winning record, first in the conference with Utah in second, allowing 110.20 yards to teams with a winning record (The Utes have played five teams above .500). Overall, Stanford is leading the Pac-12 conference giving up only 75.57 rushing yards per game to their opponents, while USC is second with 91.14 yards and playing against better competition. You bet USC will have their hands full against Stanford's strong offensive line, but head coach Lane Kiffin has done a good job preparing his team against the run with winning teams.
329.8: The number of total yards of offense USC is allowing against opponents with winning records. Oregon is second in the conference with 392.8.
2 and 4: Number of sacks allowed by Stanford and USC, respectively. Stanford has been pretty dominant on both sides of the line, with their defense sacking the quarterback 25 times this season, first in the conference. But, again, they have faced some terrible teams with weak lines, with Washington's offensive line being the strongest, and they allowed two sacks all game.
Will USC's defensive line penetrate through Stanford's offensive line and get to Andrew Luck? Probably not, but that's not to say the Cardinal will have an easier time getting to Matt Barkley. USC's offensive line, the weakness of the team coming into the season, has steadily seen some gains in production thanks to a seemingly now established running back duo consisiting of Marc Tyler and Curtis McNeal.
21.5: Number of points USC has allowed per game against teams with a winning record. That's right, that atrocious USC defense have actually done... Good! Oregon, ranked 8th in the nation, is second in the conference allowing 25.5 points per game, and both the Trojans and Ducks have faced teams with winning records four times this season. Can't qualify Stanford yet, as they only played Washington, but they did allow 21 points... But again, allowed 430 total yards.
As the numbers above look favorable for USC, it's not to say Stanford can't roll straight through the Trojans. Stanford's power smash mouth offense has been effective against USC for two years straight. Head coach David Shaw has done a solid job of distributing the ball on offense to his receivers, namely his tight ends. The Cardinal have four receivers with 300-plus receiving yards, with two being tight ends (Coby Fleener, Zach Ertz).
The Cardinal aren't afraid to score on the road, putting up high octane numbers averaging 41.7 points away from the farm.
The Trojans will hope to contain Shaw's offensive creativity, and oh yeah, they will also have to contain that Luck guy...
Can it be done. Can the Trojans pull off the upset? Both teams played one of the better games of the Pac-12 last year with Stanford winning on a last second field goal. The stats say to expect another classic battle, and don't be THAT surprised if the Trojans pull it off.