USC vs. Cal 2017: Trojans’ winning streaks, omens on the line in Berkeley

After outlasting Texas in an overtime thriller, the Trojans will have plenty of streaks riding on Saturday’s annual USC vs. Cal game.

The USC vs. Cal rivalry alternates with Stanford as the Trojans’ third or fourth most-pressing rivalry behind UCLA and Notre Dame. But a long run of victories has weakened the series from where it was more than a decade ago.

USC has won 13-straight over the Bears, and boast a 12-game winning streak overall. If they grab another victory this week, the Trojans will have gone an entire year without losing a football game, a feat not matched since the 2006 Rose Bowl.

They most recently lost September 23, 2016 at Utah, which opens a string of bad omens if you’re into coincidences. For starters, Saturday’s game will also be played September 23.

But more specifically, the 12-game overall winning streak USC takes into Strawberry Canyon is the program’s longest such streak since Pete Carroll’s final season in 2009.

The 2009 streak started the previous October, included a Rose Bowl win over Penn State and lasted exactly 12 games.

It ended in the first conference road game of the season, against an unranked team —the Washington Huskies— in their first year coached by first-time head coach and former USC coordinator, Steve Sarkisian.

The Trojans’ current streak started last October, includes a Rose Bowl win over Penn State and has gone on for a dozen games thus far.

Saturday’s game at 3-0 Cal will also mark the first Pac-12 road game of the year, and comes against former USC defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox, in his first season as a first-year head coach. The same Wilcox who was hired at USC by the aforementioned Sarkisian.

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If that isn’t enough, Troy’s 2016 season has often been compared to 2002, when Carroll’s historic seven-year run of BCS bowls began. Both teams beat ranked Colorado and finished the year with at least eight-straight wins, including a major bowl win over a Big Ten team.

The 2002 season paved the way for Carroll’s Trojans to be a legitimate national title contender for the first time in 2003, but their campaign suffered a September setback when they lost in Berkeley.

The triple-overtime loss in 2003 isn’t only the most recent time Cal has beaten USC, but it came to then-Bears head coach, and former Fresno State offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford. The 2017 Golden Bears are led in part by new defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter, who was most recently the head coach at Fresno State.

This is DeRuyter’s first gig as a defensive coordinator since he was at Texas A&M from 2010 to 2012. In his first year there, his Aggies were 2-0 against teams ranked in the AP Top 10.

Finally, the Trojans’ current 13-game winning streak over their public rivals to the north is the third-longest streak against any one opponent in school history.

The two longer streaks, 16-straight over Washington State and 26-in-a-row against Oregon State, were snapped in 1986 and 2000, respectively. Both came on the road to unranked foes, while the Trojans were ranked in the AP Top 10. This week, USC meets unranked Cal while having a No. 5 next to their name.

All that considered, the Trojans seemingly have no chance at Memorial Stadium.

But this is still an extremely talented USC team led by it-quarterback Sam Darnold, who has repeatedly shown a refusal to lose games. In his last four outings dating back to the 2017 Rose Bowl, he’s spurred the Trojans to three game-winning drives in the fourth quarter or later.

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Helton’s squad is also a double-digit favorite for the third time this year, and Bill Connelly’s advanced metrics at Football Study Hall give the Trojans an 80 percent chance winning.

It makes Saturday afternoon at the Mecca of public universities a battle of history and science. Whether or not drama makes an appearance is yet to be determined.

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