Pac-12 Championship Gameday Guide: Matchups, lineups, links, odds and more

Alicia de Artola/Reign of Troy
Alicia de Artola/Reign of Troy /

USC vs. Stanford

Levi’s Stadium | Santa Clara, CA5:00 p.m. Pacific | ESPNAll-time Series: USC leads 62-32-3Last meeting: USC 42, Stanford 24 in Week 2

For the second time in three years, USC and Stanford will meet in the Pac-12 Championship Game. And once again, under similar circumstances, only in reverse.

The Trojans’ 18-point win in Week 2 was as surprisingly dominant as the Cardinal’s 2015 conference opener. It gives Clay Helton’s side the tough task of repeating against Heisman Trophy candidate Bryce Love and company, who have won eight of their last nine games.

Should USC get the double, they’ll sit back Saturday and hope for an unlikely series of outcomes and an outside shot at the College Football Playoff. If they don’t, David Shaw will wear the conference’s crown for the fourth time in six seasons, and against perhaps the steepest of odds.

Much like the Trojans in 2016, Stanford was left for dead in September following back-to-back losses to USC and San Diego State. But a quarterback switch to K.J. Costello and an impressive win over Washington has paved the way for a rematch with a 10-2 Trojan team hungry for their first Pac-12 title since the Bush administration.

Can Sam Darnold repeat his dazzling Week 2 performance? Can Ronald Jones and Stephen Carr lead another out-Stanfording of Stanford? Or will Bryce Love play the role of Christian McCaffrey and break the Trojans’ back once again?

Friday night in Santa Clara will have the answers, with only one cardinal-draped team permitted to hoist the Pac-12’s holy grail.

Gameday Links:

Preview Podcast:

Co-hosts Michael Castillo and Alicia de Artola preview USC’s Pac-12 Championship Game matchup with Stanford, including a breakdown of how the game compares and differs from Week 2, along with over/unders and score predictions.

LISTEN: USC vs. Stanford II Preview

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USC Injury Report:

  • Out for season: DL Kenny Bigelow (retirement/transfer), K Michael Brown (knee), CB Greg Johnson (shoulder), LB Tayler Katoa (knee), CB Jonathan Lockett (hip), S Isaiah Pola-Mao (shoulder), OL Viane Talamaivao (pectoral), DL Marlon Tuipulotu (back), WR Keyshawn “Pie” Young (hamstring/redshirt)
  • Out: Jamel Cook (academics), OLB Hunter Echols (redshirt), WR Randal Grimes (hand), OLB Porter Gustin (toe), OT Nathan Smith (knee), RB James Toland (shoulder)
  • Probable: OL Chris Brown (back), P Reid Budrovich (shoulder), QB Matt Fink (knee), DL Rasheem Green (shoulder), WR Velus Jones Jr. (ankle), K Chase McGrath (groin), TE Tyler Petite (shoulder), DL Christian Rector (hand)

Stanford Injury Report:

  • Out for season: LB Sean Barton (knee), CB Alijah Holder (knee)
  • Out: DE Eric Cotton (foot)
  • Questionable: LB Joey Alfieri (shoulder), CB Terrance Alexander (arm), OL Walker Little (undisclosed), LB Curtis Robinson (undisclosed)
  • Probable: RB Bryce Love (ankle)

Click here for more details from the USC and Stanford injury reports.

When USC has the ball…

The strength of the Cardinal defense runs down the middle, led by defensive tackle Harrison Phillips, linebacker Bobby Okereke and safety Justin Reid.

It’s no coincidence that the trio leads Stanford in tackles this year and led the Cardinal in the first meeting between the two teams as well.

Despite those talented figures, the Cardinal have struggled at times defensively. In September, Stanford gave up 4.84 yards per carry, including a 307-yard rushing performance for USC. They have dropped that number down to 4.01 yards per carry in November, doing well to hold Notre Dame to 154 yards on 33 carries.

Whether defending the run or the pass, Stanford has struggled with efficiency, ranking 96 in success rate, or the measure of successful yardage gained by an opponent relative to down and distance.

That helps explain why USC had so much success against Stanford the last time, as the Trojans rank 15th in offensive success rate in 2017.

Projected Stanford Defense

  • DE Jovan Swann #51
  • DT Harrison Phillips #66
  • DE Dylan Jackson #97
  • OLB Peter Kalambayi #34
  • ILB Bobby Okereke #20
  • ILB Jordan Perez #15
  • OLB Joey Alfieri #32
  • CB Alameen Murphy #4
  • S Justin Reid #8
  • S Frank Buncom #5
  • CB Quenton Meeks #24

Projected USC Offense

  • WR Steven Mitchell #4
  • WR Deontay Burnett #80
  • TE Tyler Petite #82
  • RT Chuma Edoga #70
  • RG Andrew Vorhees #72
  • C Nico Falah #74
  • LG Chris Brown #77
  • LT Toa Lobendahn #50
  • WR Tyler Vaughns #21
  • QB Sam Darnold #14
  • RB Ronald Jones II #25

When Stanford has the ball…

The Cardinal may not have Christian McCaffrey, who USC players dubbed the ‘white Reggie Bush’, but they still have plenty of firepower the Trojans must get re-acquainted with.

It starts with Heisman Trophy candidate Bryce Love at running back. The 1,848-yard rusher has been a revelation for Stanford, putting together an historic season anchored by his FBS-record 11 runs of 50 yards or more, and an 8.6 yards-per-carry average on pace for similar enshrinement.

Love’s silky moves and explosive speed make him a tough back to contain, as evident in Week 2. USC held him to 160 yards and still felt relatively good about it, despite surrendering a 75-yard touchdown scamper. The North Carolina native will be looking for more Friday night, even with an ankle injury that has tempered his breakneck pace a smidgen in recent weeks.

But while Stanford relied on a Love-or-bust offense in September, a switch from Keller Chryst to K.J. Costello at quarterback has given the Cardinal an added dimension. The former USC recruit has boasted a 131.97 rating since winning the starting job and tossed four picturesque touchdowns against Notre Dame last week.

Costello’s uptick in arm strength and NFL upside from Chryst makes pre-existing mismatches like receiver JJ Arcega-Whiteside and tight end Dalton Shultz that much more dangerous. Almost half of Arcega-Whiteside’s receptions this season have come in the last four games, and he’ll look to continue where he left off in Week 2 against USC’s corners.

All told, the Trojans have an interesting challenge ahead of them. While they’ve been reliably consistent in terms of output, allowing just one team to score more than 30 points in conference play, USC has shown lapses in defending the big play.

Clancy Pendergast’s defense is 72nd nationally in overall explosiveness, and surrendered a staggering 48 passes of 20-plus yards, good for 120th in FBS. That’s cause for concern against Stanford, especially when the Trojans could look to stack the box against Love and as a partial ploy to pressure the inexperienced Costello.

Projected Stanford Offense

  • WR JJ Arcega-Whiteside #19
  • TE Dalton Shultz #9
  • LT Devery Hamilton #74
  • LG David Bright #64
  • C Jesse Burkett #73
  • RG Nate Herbig #63
  • RT A.T. Hall #75
  • WR Trent Irwin #2
  • QB K.J. Costello #3
  • RB Bryce Love #20
  • FB Daniel Marx #35

Projected USC Defense

  • SLB Uchenna Nwosu #42
  • DE Rasheem Green #94
  • DT Josh Fatu #98
  • PRED Christian Rector #89
  • MLB Cameron Smith #35
  • WLB John Houston #10
  • CB Iman Marshall #8
  • SS Chris Hawkins #4
  • FS Marvell Tell #7
  • NB Ajene Harris #27
  • CB Jack Jones #25

Odds (USC -4):

USC opened as a three-point favorite per Sports Book Review but the line has slid slightly more in the Trojans’ favor, at four points.