No. 24 USC Football Takes On No. 7 Stanford in Pac-12 Championship Game|
Nov. 30, 2015
No. 24 USC, the Pac-12 South Division co-champion after defeating crosstown foe UCLA, is playing in its first Pac-12 Championship Game and gets a 2015 rematch against North Division titlist No. 7 Stanford, who beat the Trojans in the Coliseum in the Pac-12 opener in September. The Trojans will take the field 5 days after Clay Helton was named USC’s head coach (he had served as interim head coach for Troy’s final 7 regular season games). The game’s winner could be headed to the Rose Bowl. Troy actually finished first in the Pac-12 South in 2011, but could not play in the inaugural Pac-12 contest because of its NCAA sanctions. This will be the 14th time that USC has played the same team twice in the same year (the first since 1987). This is akin to a home game for the Cardinal, whose campus is 14 miles from Levi’s Stadium. This is USC’s fourth game since 2012 played in an NFL stadium. The Cardinal is Troy’s oldest rival (the first game was in 1905). The last 6 meetings in the series have been decided by 10 points or less. The game will air nationally on ESPN. Under Helton, USC has had success using a formula of running the ball, stopping the run and winning the turnover battle. Unitas and Senior CLASS Award finalist QB Cody Kessler guides an offense that is in the national Top 15 in completion percentage and passing efficiency. He is in USC’s all-time Top 4 in TD passes, completions, passing yards and total offense (remaining above Matt Leinart’s school career records for completion percentage and interception rate). WR JuJu Smith-Schuster is in the Top 15 nationally in receiving yards and receiving TDs. TB Justin Davis has back-to-back 100-yard rushing outings (he had 100 yards alone in the fourth quarter versus UCLA), while Freshman All-American candidate TB Ronald Jones II owns the USC freshman season rushing record formerly held by Heisman winner Charles White (Jones could be just the second Trojan first-year frosh to top the squad in season rushing). Jones is among 15 USC true freshmen to have played in 2015 (5 have started). USC’s defense has been winning the turnover battle (+1.1, including 14 takeaways since Helton took over), is 10th in the nation in sacks (26 under Helton) and has 5 defensive scores this year. The defense is led by OLB Su’a Cravens and 3-way star CB-WR-RET Adoree’ Jackson (the only player in the country with 300 yards receiving, 500 yards in kick runbacks, 200 punt return yards and 20 tackles), a Hornung Award finalist who has scored TDs now via receptions, an interception, kick returns and, in each of the past 2 weeks, a punt return. USC walk-on WR Bo St. Geme has 11 relatives who competed at Stanford, including 6 who played football there. Stanford, under head coach David Shaw (whose uncle played at USC), is playing in its third Pac-12 Championship Game (the Cardinal is 2-0). Stanford is coming off a dramatic last-second win over No. 4 Notre Dame. The Cardinal offense is fifth nationally in passing efficiency and Top 25 in rushing offense and scoring offense, as well as first in time of possession (more than 35 minutes). Fourth-year starting QB Kevin Hogan (he has led the Cardinal to a record 34 wins) is among the school’s career leaders in total offense, TD passes and passing yards. He is fifth nationally in passing efficiency. Do-it-all RB Christian McCaffrey, a Heisman Trophy contender (he is a finalist for the Maxwell, Hornung and Doak Walker Awards) and the team leader in rushing, receiving, punt returns and kick returns, tops the country in all-purpose running (he is the Pac-12 career recordholder) and is No. 7 in rushing and kickoff returns. Other key pass catchers are WR Michael Rector, Mackey Award finalist TE Austin Hooper and WR Devon Cajuste. OG Joshua Garnett is a finalist for the Outland Trophy. LB Blake Martinez, who is ranked high in the nation in tackles, S Kodi Whitfield and LB Peter Kalambayi lead Stanford’s defense, which is allowing just 23 points a game. PK Conrad Ukropina, whose field goal beat the Irish at the gun, is sixth nationally in field goal percentage.