USC can’t play its way into the Rose Bowl. The Trojans can’t go to any bowl game, BCS or not. But on Oct. 9, they can win at Stanford. That just may be enough.
On the scale of hot rivals, Stanford has become the Trojans own private habanero. Last November, the Cardinal humiliated the Trojans, 55-21, in Los Angeles. Stanford’s 27-point fourth quarter not only blew open the game, it shred whatever belief USC -- fans and players alike -- held that the Trojan dynasty might continue.
USC hadn’t lost a game in November since 2001, Pete Carroll’s first season.
USC hadn’t allowed 55 points since -- well, ever.
Stanford head coach Jim Harbaugh had been a gnat buzzing around Carroll’s face since he took the job ahead of the 2007 season. That Cardinal team, a 41-point underdog to the Trojans, beat them, 24-23. Yes, that means the last USC team to win a home game against Stanford featured Reggie Bush and Matt Leinart. When Carroll left in January for the Seattle Seahawks, he had a losing record against one Pac-10 coach. He went 1-2 against Harbaugh.
Carroll may be gone but most of the players who withstood that humiliation return. Their memory of Stanford’s fourth-quarter romp is the sort that lingers. When the Cardinal scored a touchdown to go ahead, 48-21, Harbaugh sent his two-point conversion team onto the field.
USC stopped the conversion, but it was the thought that counts. After the game, Carroll accosted Harbaugh at midfield and asked, "What’s your deal?"
Knowing an opportunity when it sees one, the Stanford athletic marketing office set up a cafeteria-style plan for Cardinal fans in 2010. They may buy a ticket to the USC game and two other Stanford home games. It’s called, "What’s your deal?"