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USC vs. Stanford Prediction, Game Preview

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USC vs. Stanford prediction and game preview. Projecting who wins the game between the Trojans and Cardinal.

USC vs. Stanford Game Preview

Well, David Shaw certainly wasn’t happy his team’s bye week landed on Week 2 of the 2016 college football season. Regardless, Stanford is still 1-0 after taking down Kansas State two weeks ago, 26-13. In that game, Christian McCaffrey was his usual self, rushing for 126 yards and two touchdowns while also reeling in seven catches for 40 yards. 

For Clay Helton’s team, last weekend was much easier than the season opener was. Two weeks ago, the Trojans were flattened by Alabama, 52-6. But this past weekend saw USC take it to Utah State and come out with a 45-7 win. This is the sixth season in a row the Trojans are playing in the Pac-12’s first conference game. It’s also the fourth time in five years that USC and Stanford have matched up in the first league game of the season. The two teams met twice last year, and the Cardinal took both. USC may lead the all-time series, 60-31-3, but Stanford has claimed six of their last eight matchups. 

What To Know About USC

Max Browne is the guy. He’s the starter. It’s his time. He wasn’t quite ready for the job against the Crimson Tide, but Nick Saban’s teams usually have an overwhelming effect on opposing teams and quarterbacks. Browne bounced back last week by completing 23-of-30 passes for 182 yards and two touchdowns. He’ll have to develop a better rapport with JuJu Smith-Schuster, who may have two receiving touchdowns but only eight catches for 65 yards thus far. If they can find a rhythm, and Darreus Rogers can create separation, too, then the box could be a little less crowded for running back Justin Davis, who has yet to find the end zone. 

On the other side of the ball, the Trojans have to get a pass rush from Porter Gustin. He leads the team with two sacks and 3.5 tackles for loss. Iman Marshall and Leon McCquay III need to hang tight in the secondary, and Adoree’ Jackson better step up. He’s always a threat to break a kick return, but he needs to be a pick-six threat, too. 

What to Know About Stanford

At this point, it’s almost self-explanatory. McCaffrey is the best all-around running back in all of college football. It wouldn’t be surprising if Shaw lets his star player throw a couple passes in this one just to keep USC on its toes.

Ryan Burns has finally taken over as the starting quarterback now that Kevin Hogan has moved on, and he did well in Week 1 with 77.8 percent of his passes completed for 156 yards and a touchdown. If he and Michael Rector can establish a connection early, that could open up some short passing lanes for McCaffrey to receive the ball in.

The defensive effort is led by Peter Kalambayi, who has 2.5 sacks. Beyond him, Zach Hoffpauir needs to be the difference maker in the secondary for Stanford.


Offense: Stanford. It has arguably the most explosive player in college football in its backfield. Both Burns and Browne are talented, though inexperienced. Smith-Schuster is the top receiver in this game, but McCaffrey is the best player overall. 

Defense: This has to go to USC simply because it has natural playmakers in the secondary. Between McQuay, Marshall and Jackson, the Trojans have ballhawks across the third level of the defense. 

Special Teams: Again, because of McCaffrey, the Cardinal gets the nod. He’s always a threat to find a seam, hit a hole and take it to the crib (he had a 96-yard punt return called back in the opener due to a block in the back). Jackson is also a kick return threat, but he’s not McCaffrey. The edge goes to Stanford.

Coaching: Easy one. Clay Helton doesn’t have the head coaching experience to hang with Shaw. He needs more time, and he’s going up against one of the best coaches in college football — let alone the Pac-12. 

Matchup To Watch

USC linebackers vs. Christian McCaffrey

The game plan for USC has to be simple: Keep No. 5 in front of you. If McCaffrey gets to the second level with a step on the outside backers, he’s breaking off a nice chunk of yardage. The same goes for when Burns looks to check down to his running back in the flats or over the middle. McCaffrey needs a sliver of a crease in order to break for daylight. The Trojans will have to swarm to the ball, wrap up and lay a big hit on McCaffrey to set the tone.

USC vs. Stanford Betting Odds

Spread: Stanford -8.5
Over/Under: N/A

USC vs. Stanford Prediction

This is going to be a must-watch game. Browne is going to be given the green light to hook up with Smith-Schuster on the deep ball. They’ll connect early on to take some pressure off the running game. Browne will also deliver a few strikes to Rogers before Davis punches in his first touchdown. USC will have the lead at the end of the first, but Stanford will charge back. 

Down by a few points going into the second quarter, Shaw will let Burns take his turn at flinging the rock. He’ll be accurate, but the real haymaker will be delivered by a touchdown pass to McCaffrey. The Heisman contender will pad his resume by rushing for 150 yards and two touchdowns in this one with most of his damage being done in the second half. He’ll lead the Cardinal to the win.  

USC vs. Stanford Score Prediction: Stanford 42, USC 31

MORE: 1-128 College Football Rankings – Week 3

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