Six of the past nine meetings between Stanford and USC have hung in the balance until the last play of the game. These two programs have developed an epic history since Jim Harbaugh took over for the Cardinal in 2007 and shocked Pete Carroll's Trojans in his first season at the helm. That 24-23 upset has been well documented (proof: it has its own Wikipedia page), so let's look at some of the other recent iconic moments in this rivalry with the two teams set to square off for a Pac-12 championship Saturday:
Luck vs. Barkley, Part 1: What's Your Deal?
This was the 2009 visit to the Coliseum that truly marked Stanford's arrival and, in many ways, set the table for the championship game that awaits us Saturday. The Cardinal were coming off an upset victory over Oregon at home, but were still 10-point underdogs entering Los Angeles. That's when Richard Sherman delivered a pick-six, talked smack to an opposing team's fans on national television for the first time and then watched his coach, Harbaugh (it's funny now to realize that the two were once on the same team), go for two while up by 27 points. Stanford won 55-21 after exhausting USC behind Toby Gerhart's bruising running, and an incensed Carroll had three words for Harbaugh at the postgame handshake: "What's your deal?"
Luck vs. Barkley, Part 2: Whitaker's field goal
Carroll was gone for this 2010 rematch -- he wouldn't see Harbaugh again until the following season, when the former coached the Seattle Seahawks and the latter took over the San Francisco 49ers -- so Lane Kiffin roamed USC's sideline this time. Andrew Luck and Matt Barkley both put on absolute shows. Trojans receiver Robert Woods torched Sherman -- still adapting to his new cornerback role after his switch from receiver the previous season -- to the tune of 12 catches for 224 yards and three touchdowns. But Luck would have the ball last, and that's all that mattered: He led Stanford 62 yards in just over a minute to set up Nate Whitaker's field goal as time expired. The Cardinal won 37-35.
Luck vs. Barkley, Part 3: Triple overtime
Entering this 2011 matchup back at the Coliseum, it was hard to imagine a game topping the 2010 edition in terms of dramatic flair. But, boy, did this one do the trick. Luck, now in his final college season, threw a pick-six to USC's Nickell Robey late. That gave USC a 34-27 lead in front of 93,000 rumbling fans. Luck immediately silenced them with a tying drive that forced overtime, and blood pressures rose. At the time, Stanford was still undefeated, so tension in the building could be cut with a knife. The Trojans finally blinked in the third overtime: Cardinal linebacker A.J. Tarpley fell on a USC fumble in the end zone to give Stanford a 56-48 victory.
Fresh off their postseason ban, the No. 2 Trojans came into the 2012 rematch with national-title aspirations. Luck was in an Indianapolis Colts uniform by now, so USC was favored again. But this was the night when the Stanford defense's three-year reign over the Pac-12 began: The same unit that would later shut down Oregon at Autzen Stadium terrorized Barkley, leading the way to a 21-14 Stanford victory, the Cardinal's fourth straight in the series.
USC's revenge, Part 1
The Trojans exacted their payback at home in 2013, knocking Stanford out of the national-title conversation behind Andre Heidari's 53-yard field goal with less than a minute remaining. That gave Ed Orgeron's USC team a 20-17 victory that brought thousands of fans streaming onto the Coliseum turf. This was a big moment for the Trojans, and it was apparent in the ebullient postgame celebration: The Cardinal had tormented for them for several years running, and USC's gutsy performance with a short-handed unit up front -- the Trojans stiffened in the red zone -- showed it could match Stanford's physicality.
USC's revenge, Part 2
The payback tour continued at Stanford Stadium with an ugly 13-10 USC victory last season. Both offenses seemed to find the end zone poisonous; we saw only one touchdown from each before any real semblance of scoring left the building. The Cardinal reached the Trojans' 35-yard line nine times but mustered only 10 points. Perhaps the biggest commotion in this game came when USC athletic director Pat Haden left his booth to talk to the officials down on the sideline. The Trojans sealed the game by sacking and stripping Kevin Hogan, setting the table for the quarterback's 41-31 redemption against them in their Sept. 19 meeting this season.
That brings us to the third and final chapter of the Hogan-Cody Kessler duel this Saturday. The Rose Bowl -- or, in Stanford's case, possibly more -- is at stake.