College football: USC-Stanford rivalry friendly, for now
Stanford, Calif. • David Shaw sat in a chair speaking to a round table of reporters about his Stanford team's upcoming game against Southern California this week. At the same time, Lane Kiffin was talking to writers on a conference call from Los Angeles when someone asked about the relationship between the young coaches, given the hostility that surrounded their predecessors.
"It's a little more friendly rivalry," Kiffin said, sarcastically, "a little more respectful than it was for the last couple of head coaches."
Kiffin's comments immediately spread across social media, countless blogs and websites. In a matter of minutes, Shaw was asked if he had a response.
"My response is, 'Thanks, Lane,' " Shaw said, laughing, crossing his arms on the table and putting his head down and trying to regain his composure. "I don't have a response to that. Lane and I get along very well. We would love to beat each other. But at the same time, he and I, we're fine."
At least for now.
If history has shown anything in a rivalry between the Pac-12's private California schools that dates back to 1905, things can change in a hurry. The second-ranked Trojans (2-0) visit the No. 21 Cardinal (2-0) Saturday afternoon for the latest chapter of what has been one of the country's most captivating matchups over the past five years.
The relationship between the two head coaches certainly seems more cordial than what Jim Harbaugh and Pete Carroll ever showed for each other, climaxing with Carroll's infamous "What's your deal?" confrontation after Harbaugh happily went for a late two-point conversion with a 48-21 lead against the Trojans in 2009.
Most of that can be traced to their football fathers. Monte Kiffin, now the defensive coordinator at USC, and Willie Shaw were together on the Minnesota Vikings' staff in the early 1990s. Kiffin has only faced Stanford as USC's head coach twice, going 0-2, including last season's 58-46 triple-overtime thriller that Andrew Luck engineered at the Coliseum when the quarterback led the team on four straight touchdown drives.
Forgive the players if they're not quite ready to call this matchup friendly.
Stanford players have been labeled "nerds" for decades a moniker players now embrace on game days on social media and have been beaten and bruised for most of the last century by USC's dynasties. The Trojans lead the series 58-28-3, although the dominance has recently evaporated.
"It's kind of a general distaste," said new Stanford quarterback Josh Nunes, who grew up a Cardinal fan in the Los Angeles suburb of Upland.
Tracking Stanford's rise as an improbable college football power can be traced back to the USC contests.
In a night game in 2007, Harbaugh's Cardinal recorded one of the most stunning upsets in college football history, snapping the No. 2 Trojans' conference-record 35-game winning streak with a one-point victory as a 41-point underdog. Three years ago, Stanford returned to Los Angeles for the highest-scoring performance ever against USC, cementing its rivalry reversal with that 55-21 thrashing that led to the Harbaugh-Carroll confrontation.
"We bow to no program here at Stanford," Harbaugh said earlier that year.
The Cardinal escaped when Luck led a last-minute drive for a winning field goal as time expired in 2010 at Stanford Stadium. And last year might have been the game of the season in college football, with Luck and USC's Matt Barkley this year's Heisman Trophy favorite and the NFL's likely No. 1 overall pick matching touchdown drives until Stanford recovered Curtis McNeal's fumble in the third overtime for the victory.
While McNeal downplayed the fumble and said this week he was "able to put it away later that night," not everybody digested the loss easily.
"I haven't had a worse feeling than that one," said Trojans All-American receiver Robert Woods, who failed to get down in time to give USC a field-goal attempt at the end of regulation.
If USC's last dynasty is dead, a new one sure seems to be blossoming.
The two-year NCAA bowl ban is over. Barkley, who put off the NFL to return for his senior season and what he called "unfinished business," already has a nation-best 10 touchdown passes. Woods, considered perhaps the top receiver in the country before the year, might not even be the best on his own team anymore with Marqise Lee's emergence.
The Trojans also added running back and Penn State transfer Silas Redd and returned most starters for defensive master Monte Kiffin's complex system, which gave the Cardinal constant problems in protecting Luck last season.
But they did lose left tackle Matt Kalil, drafted fourth overall by the Vikings, and fifth-year center Khaled Holmes left last week's win over Syracuse on a cart with a right leg injury that could leave an offensive line that never allowed a sack against Stanford last year with another void.
"With all the hype, people expect us to do so well and all the rankings," said Barkley, who has beaten every team in the conference but is 0-3 against Stanford. "I knew it wasn't going to be a walk in the park. I wouldn't say it's surprising to me, but week in and week out, it's not like it's going to be a blowout."
Stanford's transition from the post-Luck era is still in its infancy. USC will provide the first formidable test and show how many if any bumps the program will have this season without arguably the greatest player in its history.
Nunes has only started two games in four years and hasn't done more than manage the offense so far. The Cardinal also lost right guard David DeCastro, tight end Coby Fleener and left tackle Jonathan Martin among the top 42 picks in April's NFL draft, and both starting wide receivers and safeties are also gone.
Just don't expect a motivated USC team with national title aspirations to overlook the talent still on Stanford's roster.
"These guys slipped past us the last three years," said cornerback Nickell Robey, who intercepted a pass by Luck late in regulation last year and returned it 33 yards for a go-ahead touchdown before Stanford surged back. "We know this team isn't a pushover. They've got our attention."
• California at Ohio State, 10 a.m., Ch. 4
• Eastern Michigan at Purdue, 10 a.m., Big Ten
• Wake Forest at Florida St., 10 a.m., ESPN
• Arkansas St. at Nebraska, 10 a.m., ESPN2
• Louisiana-Lafayette at Oklahoma State, 10 a.m., ROOT
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• Northern Illinois at Army, 10 a.m., CBSSN
• Virginia Tech at Pittsburgh, 10 a.m., ESPNU
• Tennessee Tech at Oregon, 1 p.m., Pac-12
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• Navy at Penn State, 1:30 p.m., ESPN2
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• Florida at Tennessee, 4 p.m., ESPN
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• Western Kentucky at Kentucky, 5 p.m., ESPNU
• USC at Stanford, 5:30 p.m., Ch. 13
• Utah State at Wisconsin, 6 p.m., Big Ten
• Colorado at Fresno State, 6 p.m., CBSSN
• Notre Dame at Michigan State, 6:07 p.m., Ch. 4
• Texas at Mississippi, 7:15 p.m., ESPN
• BYU at Utah, 8 p.m., ESPN2
• Houston at UCLA, 8:30 p.m., Pac-12
• Howard at Norfolk State, 8:30 p.m. (tape), ESPNU
• Lamar at Hawaii, 10 p.m. (tape), ROOT