Yelling Timber: Scondi’s USC vs. Stanford preview

LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 19: Steven Mitchell Jr.
LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 19: Steven Mitchell Jr. /

After a rocky start against Western Michigan, the USC vs. Stanford game is the Trojans first true test of the 2017 season.

On October 6, 2007, USC who was favored by 41 points but fell to Stanford. 24-23. It was at that time the biggest point spread upset of all time in college football.

The Trojans were let off the hook this past Saturday, when Howard, who were 45 point underdogs, defeated UNLV 43-40.

Since 2007, Stanford would go on to win eight of the next 11 games against the Trojans. This rivalry has never seen this kind of consistent dominance by the Cardinal.

It’s been 10 years since that game and if there was any curse attached to that title of biggest upset in college football history, it’s no longer the Trojans’ problem. Sorry Rebels, tough to have that kind of bad luck in Sin City.

I think a decade has been more than enough time for Stanford to have their fun atop the Pac-12 conference. They got their sunshine and exercise, but now it’s time for them to go back into the library where they belong.

Stanford Team Preview

Note: A lot of my research on Stanford came from Bill Connelly’s team preview.  He’s one of the best in the game and deserves recognition whenever possible. 


The Stanford Cardinal are 1-0 as they opened their season in Sydney, Australia, defeating Rice 62-7. Not quite the type of matchup you want to schedule if you’re trying to grow the game of football in other countries.

Guess it’s not as bad as the NFL scheduling a Jaguars game in London every year.

It’s impossible to properly gauge Stanford from this game, especially when it was over after the first drive. The Cardinal must have tossed Rice in the microwave, because they were cooked in less than a minute.

Stanford beat their first opponent by 55, while USC only won by 18. Therefore, Stanford > USC.

I’m joking, but this is how AP Poll voters make these decisions.

Note To Readers: Don’t pay attention to the AP Poll. It’s extremely inaccurate, especially early in the season. There’s no reason to be mad USC dropped two rankings after a win. You’re going to need that anger once the College Football Playoff rankings come out. It’s a marathon not a sprint.

Stanford will be coming off a bye this week, if you can call it that. Usually a bye week allows you to rest, but Stanford will be using the majority of their extra time recovering from jet lag, readjusting to the toilets flushing in a different direction, and getting ahead of all their school work before classes start in a week.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA – AUGUST 22: Stanford Cardinal head coach David Shaw comes face to face with Tabbi the Koala during the 2017 US College Football Sydney Cup Launch at the Sydney overseas passenger terminal on August 22, 2017 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA – AUGUST 22: Stanford Cardinal head coach David Shaw comes face to face with Tabbi the Koala during the 2017 US College Football Sydney Cup Launch at the Sydney overseas passenger terminal on August 22, 2017 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images) /


Why does it look like he’s prepared to get into the world’s longest staring contest with that koala?

Coach David Shaw enters his seventh year as head coach for Stanford, collecting a 65-17 record and leading the team to three conference championships and two Rose Bowl victories.

Feels like an impressive enough resume to admit he wasn’t just a mediocre coach riding the coattails of Jim Harbaugh’s success.

Maybe we’ll need a couple more years to be sure. I mean, his first recruiting class only graduated two years ago.


The offense is run by offensive coordinator Mike Bloomgren. Excuse me, his actual title is the “Andrew Luck Director of Offense,” because Stanford will take any opportunity to sound more pretentious.

Surprised the title of running back coach hasn’t been renamed to the “Toby Gerhart Administrator of Broken Tackles.”

Anyway, Coach/Director Bloomgren uses a run heavy-offense based on using Stanford’s best player as a pack mule or bell cow (use whichever animal metaphor you prefer). Basically, the best player is going to get the ball…a lot. For the last three years, the player was Christian McCaffrey.

Unfortunately for Stanford, he left for the NFL Draft, and the offense has a huge hole to fill. McCaffrey did everything. He ran the ball, he caught the ball, and on the dozen or so plays not intended for him, he was the decoy that allowed wide receivers to get open. He’s so good, the Carolina Panthers gave him his own playbook.

Classic Stanford nerd getting extra books so he can study more.

Stanford has the pieces to recover quickly with an offensive line that returns six linemen with a combined 68 starts and running back Bryce Love, who was extremely impressive in the season opener with 13 carries for 180 yards and one touchdown.

He’s already drawing comparisons to Christian McCaffrey. Apparently, all you need is one game against a cupcake opponent to garner comparisons to some of the best running backs in your school’s history.

At least USC fans are more realistic.

On the passing side, Stanford returns starting quarterback Keller Chryst. In the season opener, he went 14-of-24 for 254 yards and two touchdowns against Rice. Not quite the stat-line you should put up against a team you score 62 on, but it looks like he was pulled in the middle of the second quarter.

Stanford also has a plethora of wide receivers that sound like they’d be more interested in playing collegiate lacrosse. With names like Trenton Irvwin, Connor Wedington, Kaden Smith and Colby Parkinson, there’s no way half of their fathers aren’t lawyers. They are just playing football because they couldn’t get the tee time they wanted on Saturday.


Stanford’s defense has always been the barometer for their success, mostly in part, because it doesn’t seem like the rest of the Pac-12 conference even bothers with that side of the ball.

Their defense this year will be good, but they’re going to see a regression due to the loss of defensive end Solomon Thomas. Thomas was the key to their success last year because of how much attention opponents had to give him. Teams had to make sure of where he was on every play and consistently double team him, which freed a linebacker or safety to make the play.

With Thomas gone, the defensive line is thin. The trenches are usually where Stanford wins games, but they will be lacking in depth and skill on the defensive side early in the season.

Their linebackers and secondary are some of the best in the conference, and given time, the defensive line will catch up to them. Luckily for the Trojans, two weeks isn’t enough time.

In the season opener, Stanford’s defense only allowed 241 yards and forced two turnovers. Then again, they were playing Rice. It can be filling as a quick snack or a side with dinner, but definitely leaves you wanting more on the football field.

Special Teams

Stanford will have to replace their kicker Conrad Ukropina (and his one memorable field goal). They hope to replace him with Jet Toner, which sounds like an error message you get on the office printer.

They will also need to find a new kick and punt returner. With Christian McCaffrey no longer on the team, the Cardinal won’t be able to start drives with great field position. Hopefully returning punter Jake Bailey can compensate by pinning opponents deep in their own territory.

Should I Stay Or Should I Go

If you have a ticket, you better be at the Coliseum at 5:30 PM sharp. Fine, 6:00 PM, but be loud. Okay, you can just cheer on 3rd downs, but stay the whole game. Third quarter? Please?

It’s a no-brainer to go to this game if you are able to, but for those who may be too far to attend, maybe consider where you watch this game and who you watch it with.

Seeing as this game could end up being very frustrating, maybe you should watch it from the confines of your own home. Maybe even a friend’s place if you’re really trying to be social.

Now consider the friends you want to watch with.  Do they overreact to every bad drive? Do they get extremely depressed during a one-score game? Have they’ve utter the words “Fire Helton” in the last week? Do they have a tendency to throw things?

Do they sit in the corner starting at Twitter, talking to no one, while nervously drinking cheap beer?

Okay, that last one was me, but I have a lot invested in this season. You ever try to write an article after a loss? You know how hard it is to spin zone an upset this early in the season?

For me, I’m trying to watch this game on the San Francisco equivalent of an abandoned island. I wonder if Alcatraz gets Fox Sports?

Bottomline: Be careful where you watch this game because it isn’t a guaranteed victory.

What’s The Line? (-6.5)

What’s The Line segment has been canceled. No one needs my gambling picks since most of the time they are wrong. Also, they’ve always been revealing my prediction.

It doesn’t seem like USC is going to have much trust in their kickers this year, so if they are going to win (or lose), it’s going to be by a touchdown (or more).


The issue with season openers against lesser opponents is that it’s impossible to gauge how good your team really is, so predicting what will happen Saturday is…difficult.

On defense, USC needs to create some heartbreak for Bryce Love.

The Trojans should be worried about Stanford’s run offense. Whoever they line up in the trenches is going to have a lot more push than a team from the MAC conference. Western Michigan was good, but USC can’t repeat last week’s effort on defense.

Let’s take a look at Clancy Pendergast’s record against Stanford:

2010 (Cal): Lost 48-10, allowed 467 yards2011 (Cal): Lost 35-28, allowed 405 yards2012 (Cal): Lost 21-3, allowed 475 yards2013 (USC): Won 20-17, allowed 337 yards2016 (USC): Lost 27-10, allowed 404 yards

Is his toolbox made by Fischer Price?

Clancy Pendergast became a successful defensive coordinator because he was able to stop the high-powered offense of Oregon that dominated the Pac-12 in the early 2010s. But looking at his record against Stanford, and looking at the defense last week, it seems like he really struggles against traditional offenses. Overall, his defensive scheme is beneficial against most conference opponents, but when you are trying to win a national title, you need a defense that can stop offenses of different shapes and sizes.

I’m sure Clancy and the rest of the defense will be prepared for Stanford’s running game. I’m just uncertain how well it will work.

At least he doesn’t have to game-plan for Christian McCaffrey, but remembering last year’s game, I don’t think he ever did that to begin with.

USC should do everything in their power to force Stanford to throw the ball. I don’t trust Keller Chryst. A 58 percent completion percentage against a team like Rice shouldn’t give anyone on the Stanford staff much confidence in his skills as a passer.

Load eight men in the box. Blitz on every play. Force them to throw the ball. Sure, these defensive adjustments might lead to one-on-one battles in the secondary, but our corners are more talented than their receivers. I’ll sacrifice a big play touchdown for a couple of three and outs.

Does Chris Hawkins realize he played Stanford coming off a bye…last year?

Sure, you want to get your opponent early in the season, but I can’t remember the last time we’ve ruined Stanford’s season in the second or third game. Maybe that time Pat Haden ran down to the field to yell at the refs.

I do remember every time Stanford has ruined our season though (it’s been a lot). All those games have a common theme: USC played them early in the season.

On the offensive side, USC needs to run the ball and run the ball often. I hope Tee Martin learned from last week that his musical chairs of running back rotations is counterproductive to the success of the offense. Sure, a team wants to stay balanced and see what works in the first game. The coaching staff now knows what works for the second game. Stick with that.

The running game of the Texas Tesla and Stephen Carr may see a couple speed bumps from the Stanford defense.  Hopefully Ronald Jones II can put on a couple extra pounds by Saturday.

With the passing offense lacking a deep threat, the Trojans may have found a solution in freshman wide receiver Joseph Lewis IV.

Lewis has been seeing increased reps over the past week, and drawing lots of praise from coaches:

The coach actually said it with that punctuation. Lewis will have to show his talent on the field before that second “j” gets capitalized.

This is one of those games where Sam Darnold is the determining factor. USC has Darnold and Stanford doesn’t.

More from Reign of Troy

Sure, it may be his first time starting against Stanford, but it’s also Keller Chryst first time against USC. Which one of these quarterbacks do you think will fare better against an opponent they’ve never started against before? The answer is simple: the one that has his own podcast.

I’m sick of losing to Stanford. I’m sick of David Shaw. I’m sick of their fans. I’m sick of seeing venture capitalist toss millions of dollars at their stupid apps.

I’m sick of that stupid tree. I’d cut it down with an ax given the opportunity, and I’m fully aware that it’s someone in the costume.

Ask any 20-something USC fan which team they hate the most. It’s not UCLA. It’s not Notre Dame. It’s Stanford. If you asked Stanford fans the same thing, they probably have a similiar answer. They don’t have to worry about Cal anymore. They hate us and we hate them.

I know I’ve wanted USC to run out to Kendrick Lamar, but can I change that to Ke$ha and Pitbull? Because…


USC 28 Stanford 21