Pac-12 championship game primer: USC vs. Stanford, Part II

Darnold bringing the 'it factor' to Pac-12 championship (1:01)

USC quarterback Sam Darnold shines under pressure and many believe the 20-year-old to be NFL ready. Check out Darnold and USC as they face off against Stanford in the Pac-12 championship game Friday at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN. (1:01)

In a rematch of the 2015 Pac-12 title game, USC and Stanford will play for the conference championship Friday night in Santa Clara, California. The Trojans beat the Cardinal 42-24 this season and are looking for their first conference championship since 2008. Here are a few things to watch.


Star player: QB Sam Darnold. He came into the season as a Heisman Trophy candidate, and though he didn't achieve that level of success, Darnold still has a chance to be the first player taken in the NFL draft.

Player to watch: RB Ronald Jones II. As the Trojans played their best ball over the final third of the season, it was largely because of Jones, who rushed for 674 yards in four straight wins.

X factor: S Marvell Tell. His presence in coverage will be important against Stanford's group of tall receivers and tight ends.

Where USC is vulnerable: The Trojans have turned the ball over 22 times this season, which is one of the 10 worst marks among Power 5 programs. Stanford, on the other hand, is plus-14 in turnovers and has turned it over just 10 times.

Matchup to watch: WR Deontay Burnett vs. Stanford CB Quenton Meeks. When these two line up across from each other, it pits arguably the conference's best receiver against one of its best defensive backs.

What's at stake: USC has gone eight years without a conference title, which is its longest drought since sharing its first conference title with Stanford in 1927.


Star player: RB Bryce Love. Will he continue the great Stanford tradition of finishing second in the Heisman Trophy voting? It sure looks like that's possible.

Player to watch: WR JJ Arcega-Whiteside. He had 28 of his 41 catches in the second half of the season and developed into a reliable option for quarterback K.J. Costello.

X factor: Costello. He'll be making his sixth career start after supplanting Keller Chryst as the starter in early November. Costello was excellent last week against Notre Dame and, as a result, the offense was as dynamic as it has been all season.

Where Stanford is vulnerable: The Cardinal is much better off with Walker Little at left tackle, but he has been ruled out. Devery Hamilton will get the start. USC outside linebacker Uchenna Nwosu could cause problems there.

Matchup to watch: Love vs. everyone. He has been a one-man wrecking crew all season and needs just 152 yards to crack the 2,000-yard mark.

What's at stake: If Stanford wins, it would be the Pac-12 champion for the fourth time in six years and punch its ticket to a New Year's Six bowl. A loss would mean the Cardinal is likely looking at a trip to the Alamo or Holiday Bowl.