USC vs. Stanford 2017: Q and A with Go Mighty Card

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - AUGUST 27: Keller Chryst of Stanford talks to team mates during the College Football Sydney Cup match between Stanford University (Stanford Cardinal) and Rice University (Rice Owls) at Allianz Stadium on August 27, 2017 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - AUGUST 27: Keller Chryst of Stanford talks to team mates during the College Football Sydney Cup match between Stanford University (Stanford Cardinal) and Rice University (Rice Owls) at Allianz Stadium on August 27, 2017 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images) /

The huge rivalry matchup of USC vs. Stanford holds big implications for both teams in 2017. Here’s a Cardinal perspective on the game.

It’s been two years and three contests since the annual USC vs. Stanford game ended with a Trojan victory.

The Cardinal have reason to feel confident heading into Saturday’s game, despite the Vegas line favoring the Trojans. What can USC expect to see from Stanford?

Here’s our Q&A with Hank Waddles of

Q: Stanford is coming into this game with an unusual lead up having played in Week 0 in Australia, then getting a week off to prepare for USC. What will have the bigger impact, the disadvantage of having traveled to and from Australia or the advantage of having a bye week to prepare for the Trojans?

A: I don’t think the travel will be much of an issue for the Cardinal this week. Unlike most schools, Stanford isn’t yet in session, so the players didn’t have to battle jet lag while going to class. I’m guessing all they had to was sleep, practice, and study the playbook, so I think they’ll be fine in that regard.

I suppose it’s nice to have a bye leading into the USC game, but I think the greatest benefit is that they were able to play a game against a live opponent, even if it was just Rice.

Q: Bryce Love has the unenviable task of following in Christian McCaffrey’s shoes. Can he alone replace McCaffrey’s impact or will it be a group effort? In what ways is he similar to McCaffrey and in what ways is he different?

A: I’ve said this many times — Christian McCaffrey is a generational talent, and I’d argue that he’s the greatest player in Stanford history. Considering that, it really isn’t fair to Bryce Love to make comparisons between the two, but Love is still pretty good. He’s just as fast as McCaffrey, and like McCaffrey he plays bigger than he looks. He’s tough enough to run between the tackles, and his breakaway speed makes him a threat to score every time he touches the ball.

The good news for Love is that he doesn’t have to make up for McCaffrey’s production all on his own. Sophomore running back Cameron Scarlett made an impact against Rice, and I think he’ll be a big part of the offense throughout the season.

Q: Who should stand out in the passing game this year? USC head coach Clay Helton noted the use of some freshmen against Rice. Are Connor Wedington and Colby Parkinson really going to have a role in the offense or was that simply possible in Week 0 because Stanford was playing Rice?

A: Here’s all you really need to know about Connor Wedington — he’s wearing McCaffrey’s No. 5. He’s a serious talent, and even though J.J. Arcega-Whiteside will be back in the starting lineup this week, Wedington showed enough last week against Rice to get some targets again.

The group to watch, however, will be the tight ends. Senior Dalton Schultz, sophomores Kaden Smith and Scooter Harrington, and freshman Colby Parkinson all caught passes in the first quarter, and they totaled ten receptions for 142 yards and three touchdowns. The Stanford offense has always featured great tight end play, but there’s potential for this group to be one of the program’s best.

Q: What does Keller Chryst bring to the table that Ryan Burns didn’t last year? What is his greatest strength and area of concern?

A: Keller Chryst is a much better passer than Ryan Burns. People watching the game on Saturday won’t confuse him with Sam Darnold, but it isn’t necessary for him to be the playmaker that Darnold is.

Chryst will make the safe throws, and he’s a big, mobile quarterback who can tuck the ball and scramble out of the pocket to convert a 3rd and 7 on his own. He showed improvement after winning the starting job in the second half of last season, and he looked good against Rice, but he’s never played in a game as big as this weekend’s contest with the Trojans.

A win on Saturday would be more than just a huge win for the team, it would be huge for Chryst.

Q: How will Stanford replace the impact of a player like Solomon Thomas?

A: Senior defensive tackle Harrison Phillips will be the anchor of the defensive line. He played alongside Solomon Thomas last season, and this season he’s emerged as one of the team’s leaders.

Peter Kalambayi will also try to get after the quarterback from his outside linebacker position to provide some of the pressure that Thomas did last season.

There’s also greater depth along the defensive line, though it remains to be seen how talented that depth might be.

Matt King/Getty Images
Matt King/Getty Images /

Q: If USC fans don’t know the name of anyone on the Stanford defense right now, who will they definitely know by the end of the night on Saturday?

One way or another, I think they’ll get to know cornerbacks Quenton Meeks and Alijah Holder. Those are the two anchors of what could be the best secondary in the Pac-12 and possibly the best in Stanford history.

One of the things I’m looking forward to most about this game is the battle between Darnold and these two corners. Will one of them come up with a huge interception? Will one of them get beaten for an important touchdown? Like I said, one way or another these two should figure prominently in the eventual outcome of the game.

Q: Will David Shaw ever get the credit he deserves for keeping Stanford at a high level year in and year out? Are the Cardinal as underrated at No. 14 in the AP poll as it seems given the staff’s proven ability to reload after key personnel losses?

A: I think David Shaw gets the credit he deserves, but I think the problem is that the national media doesn’t quite know what to do with him. He doesn’t sit on the top of the mountain like Nick Saban does, but he isn’t frantically climbing that mountain, either towards Saban or the NFL, the way every other coach appears to be.

David Shaw is the Dalai Lama of college football. He communes with koalas in Australia, gives TED Talks in his spare time, and speaks his mind about any number of issues facing the game. When I asked him this summer what he would miss when he retires in thirty years, he said nothing about football but explained that he’d miss the relationships he builds with his players and their families.

None of this, of course, makes any sense. The media likes coaches who only care about winning the day or swinging their sword, not writing med school letters of recommendation.

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Oh, and there’s another thing — he hasn’t won a national championship, so how can he be any good?

As for the polls, I’ve decided that they don’t matter, only the standings do. If Stanford wins the North, then wins the Pac-12 Championship game, they’ll end up in the playoffs. That’s all that really matters.

Q: What’s your score prediction and why?

A: I’m going to say Stanford 31, USC 27.

I think the Stanford offense has the potential to be one of the best of the Shaw Era, and I think we’ll see a potent mix of Bryce Love and the tight ends to move the ball, move the chains, and keep the USC offense on the sidelines long enough to secure a close win.