The Pac-12 championship game puts Stanford, number 7 in the rankings, against USC, number 20, to decide the conference champion and maybe, if The Cardinal win, select one of the teams going into the College Football Playoff.
Despite Stanford having two losses, it seems that the committee is setting them up for an inclusion in the top 4, depending on how the other championship game play out. It’ll probably take a loss of Alabama or Clemson to open up room for them. The Big Ten champion, be it Iowa or Michigan State, is in, and it seems Oklahoma will be part of it to despite not having a championship game, unless Texas beat Baylor which hurts the Sooners own win against the Bears, or maybe helps them because the Longhorns beat them?
Unlike most conference championship game, there’s a reference point dating back to late September, when Stanford beat USC for the first time in four years 41-31. The Trojans led 21-10 in the second quarter and held a 28-24 in the third, but gave up two short Remound Wright touchdowns in succession and never got their offense back in the pace they wanted. Stanford were unranked at the time, USC wer #6 in the nation. This time it’ll be un upset if the Trojans win, although they’ve done quite well since losing to Notre Dame by the same score, including wins against Utah and UCLA.
USC won’t make the playoff with four losses, but ruining whatever chance Stanford have of making it should be a nice little compensation, besides their first conference title in the post Pete Carroll era and a trip to a major bowl game for the first time in a very long time. Cody Kessler getting the ball to more than Juju Smith-Schuster is probably the key to their offense, because once they force the defense to focus on more than just him, both Cody Kessler and the running game look so much better.
This encounter is one of the oldest in college football, with the first meeting dating back to 1905. They’ve met 93 times, with USC winning 60, Stanford 30 and three times a tie at the end. This is the first time they’ve played for the conference title game. In fact, this is the first time USC have been in the conference championship game, beginning their relative decline just when the division split occurred. Stanford have been a much more active part in all of this, playing in 2012 & 2013, winning both times to send them to the Rose Bowl.
Prediction: Despite the ability of Christian McCaffrey with 1640 rushing yards this season, including 115 in the win over USC earlier in the year, it’ll be about Kevin Hogan not turning over the ball. He has days of being solid and mistake free, but under pressure he might be forced to take risks, and the whole system of Stanford’s offense is about not taking risks, instead powering their way through games. If USC can force mistakes, they have the talent to make them costly.