With powerful USC ineligible to play in the first Pac-12 football championship game in 2011 due to NCAA sanctions, the North division enjoyed an initial advantage. That’s not enough explanation for why the South contestants keep losing.

All of the South members except Utah have taken turns playing in the title game, while this theme has remained intact: The North always wins. Oregon, Stanford and Washington have claimed championships in the first six years of the expanded conference. Stanford will take another shot Friday night (6 p.m. MDT) vs. USC at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif.

That’s practically a home venue for Stanford, but the combination of USC’s strong following and the relatively low interest in the Cardinal will reduce that home-field advantage. And with the Trojans rested after having 12 straight games before last weekend, they should be primed for this opportunity.

Stanford is a three-time champion in this decade, including a 41-22 win over USC in 2015. This championship game is a rematch of USC’s 42-24 victory Sept. 9 in Los Angeles, where the Trojans shredded Stanford’s defense. Sam Darnold passed for 316 yards and four touchdowns and USC posted 623 total yards.

“They’ve got the potential for any play they run to be an explosive play,” said Stanford coach David Shaw, who cited his team’s missed tackles in that game.

Stanford (9-3) lost at San Diego State the next week but has dropped only one game (to Washington State) since mid-September. “You’re talking about a very hot football team,” said USC coach Clay Helton. Stanford is coming off a 38-20 win over Notre Dame, which beat the Trojans 49-14 in October.

The Cardinal have switched to redshirt freshman quarterback K.J. Costello, and running back Bryce Love is healthy after missing one game in late October. Love ran for 170 yards, including a 75-yard touchdown, against USC in September.

The Trojans (10-2) lost only to Washington State in conference play and are considered a lock for a New Year’s Six bowl invitation if they win Friday. The Pac-12 is staging the title game at Levi’s Stadium for the fourth time, with the contract having been extended through 2019 (plus an option year). The conference’s first three championship games were played at campus sites, including Stanford’s 2013 victory at Arizona State.


Results of Pac-12 football championship games

2011 • Oregon 49, UCLA 31

2012 • Stanford 27, UCLA 24

2013 • Stanford 38, Arizona State 14

2014 • Oregon 51, Arizona 13

2015 • Stanford 41, USC 22

2016 • Washington 41, Colorado 10