Almost everyone has heard of the “monkey on your back” adage used to describe a large problem that doesn’t seem to go away. For USC, Stanford has grown from a monkey into an 800-pound gorilla that the Trojans have been unable to shake. Looking back on the Cardinal’s history-making 24-23 victory over USC in 2007, few if any could have foreseen what that upset would shape the future of these two programs.
Since that game nearly 10 years ago now, the Cardinal have gone 7-3 against the Trojans, but the record only tells part of the story. Stanford beat USC in the Pac-12 Championship Game in 2015 and has outscored the Trojans by nearly 70 points (323-259) over this 10-game span.
The last five seasons even though Stanford is just 3-2 against USC, the Cardinal have scored 41 points against the Trojans on two different occasions, including the 2015 conference title game. In fact, during this 10-game stretch Stanford has posted four double-digit victories while USC has defeated the Cardinal by more than three points just once.
Let’s not forget that USC was a 41-point favorite over Stanford back in 2007. The Cardinal’s stunning 24-23 win in the Coliseum marked the largest by an underdog (in terms of point spread) in college football history until Saturday when the Howard Bison of the FCS ranks beat UNLV 43-40 despite being a 45-point road underdog. But for Trojan fans, the Rebels replacing their team as the holders of an ignominious record does little to change the current narrative when it comes to the rivalry with Stanford.
As it stands now, USC is about a touchdown favorite at home, but that number will probably decrease as Saturday night’s game draws closer. It doesn’t really matter if Stanford is an official underdog considering the Cardinal have gotten the better of the Trojans for nearly a decade now. In fact, Cardinal fans probably have a hard time seeing their team as the underdog considering how this series has gone recently. Stanford has beaten USC three straight times and has won three Pac-12 titles (2012, ’13 and ’15) since the Trojans won their last in 2008.
So if USC wants to be taken seriously as being a legitimate threat to win the conference once again, let alone vie for a spot in the College Football Playoff, the Trojans should probably start by shedding the 800-pound gorilla from their back. The next chance comes on Saturday night in the Coliseum, but it won’t be easy.
For starters, USC needs to be put together a solid, all-around game that’s marked by a sense of toughness and pride. Not only are these qualities that were missing in the Trojans’ lackluster 49-31 win over Western Michigan last week, but these are also hallmarks of a Stanford team that has dominated this series over the past decade.
Washington may be the defending Pac-12 champ, but the first obstacle USC has to tackle in its quest to reclaim top billing in the conference is Stanford. So are the Trojans finally ready to get the 800-pound gorilla off of their backs or will the Cardinal add another victory over a highly ranked USC team to their ledger?