It started with a fluke. Or so it seemed at the time.
2007. USC was ranked #2, winners of 35 in a row at home. Stanford was 2-2, with a new, unproven first year coach, Jim Harbaugh, and few playmakers. This was before Heisman candidates Andrew Luck and Toby Gerhart. In fact, Stanford did not even have its first string quarterback, playing backup Tabitha Pritchard. He did not even play that well, going 11-30 for 149 yards and, one interception and one touchdown.
That one touchdown, though, was epic. With 49 seconds left in the game, he floated a perfect pass into the corner of the endzone, silencing not only the 80 thousand plus attendees, but many more like me, watching at home, stunned.
Sure, USC had been upset before. Oregon State beat us twice. UCLA, for gods sake, destroyed our national title hopes the previous year. But those losses were all on the road. To lose to Stanford, the perennial Pac-10 doormat, at home? In the Coliseum?
The next year, things seemed to return to normal as USC won handily over Stanford in Palo Alto, at a game I attended. It was, it turned out, more of a fluke than the previous year.
2009’s match ended an era.
This was Matt Barkley’s first year, playing as a true-Freshman QB, against a ranked Stanford team with arguably the best running back in the FBS, Gerhart, and a bright young quarterback, Andrew Luck.
It was a massacre. 55-21, our worst home loss in over 15 years. Stanford was the better team by far. As fans streamed out of the Coliseum, USC’s program became dormant. Within months, Carroll was gone to the NFL, we were under a two-year bowl ban, and Stanford was fighting with Oregon to be the class of the Pac-12. The dynasty, it seemed, was over. For most Trojans fans, this was an even greater shock than 2007. Peter Carroll’s team, even when they lost, fought hard. We’d been within a touchdown against Oregon State, UCLA, Texas, Washington State, those few losses.
The next two years brought close, emotional matches. A last minute field goal won the game for Stanford at home in 2011, while USC resurgence was stalled in an epic, 3-OT thriller in the Coliseum last year. Stanford has now won three consecutive games on USC’s home turf.
I think we all know one reason why Stanford dominated. Jim Harbaugh is one heck of a coach. Everyone can see that now, as he’s turned the 49ers into the NFC’s top team. Just last week he went into Lambeau Field and took town Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers. You think those victories at the Coliseum didn’t flash through his mind? Even with his departure last year, his prize recruit, Andrew Luck, carried on his legacy as a deeper, stronger Stanford team held out.
Stanford is still nationally ranked, and despite Luck’s departure, still are one of USC’s most formidable opponents. Can Matt Barkley destroy the demons of the past and get a win over the only Pac-12 team he has never beaten?
USC is the favorite, for the first time since 2008, but I can guarantee the Trojans, after three straight years of losses, are not taking the Cardinal easy. It will be an emotional game on both sides. Who would have thought that Pritchard’s dramatic touchdown five years ago would turn the game into the most contentious inter-division rivalry in the Pac-12?
The Cardinal are the team that ended our last dynasty. If we are to return back to the gloryland of the BCS, then this Saturday’s game is a must win.
Nithin is a longtime USC fan, alum (class of ’05) and has never seen USC lose in person. He’s only attended the one win (2008) we’ve had against Stanford the past five years.