LOS ANGELES -- One of the oldest clichés in sports is the need to take it "one game at a time." Many coaches have a 24-hour rule for their team to forget the previous game, good or bad, and move on to the next game.
Both of these clichés certainly apply to the USC Trojans this week. Yes, the victory in South Bend was nice, for a variety of reasons. But Lane Kiffin and his team know they can't sit around and bask in the glory of that victory for too long, because another big test is coming this weekend in the form of the Stanford Cardinal.
The Cardinal have been one of the biggest college football stories of the season. They have maintained -- and even built upon -- the momentum that was developed by former coach Jim Harbaugh. Of course, it helps to have Andrew Luck at quarterback; but as good as Luck is, the Stanford team that will arrive Saturday at the Coliseum is a lot more than just one player.
"We're more than just Andrew Luck," Stanford coach David Shaw told ESPN's Ted Miller this week. "We've got a good team. We've got a physical team. If a team wants to take away the pass by playing deep safeties, we can run the ball. We've got backs after backs. We're physical up front. We can play both styles of football. The fact that we can be a complete offense is what we strive for."
Stanford boasts the longest active win streak in the nation -- a school-record 15 in a row -- and the last 10 have been by 25 points or more, a mark never achieved before in the modern era of college football. It is ranked No. 2 nationally in scoring offense (48.6 points per game) and No. 4 in scoring defense (12.6 points per game). Both of those totals are the best in the Pac-12 Conference.
Last weekend, the Cardinal took apart a Washington team that was thought to be on the rise and ready to claim a spot among the upper-echelon teams of the conference. Stanford set a school record with 446 rushing yards on its way to a 65-21 victory and has moved up to a No. 3 ranking in the coaches poll, a No. 4 in the AP Top 25 and a No. 6 spot in the latest BCS standings.
What this means is that the Trojans had better be ready to strap it on in this game. This is no longer the Stanford finesse team that relied so much on the passing game through the years. This is a physical team that will pound the football behind a rugged offensive line that has given up only two sacks this season. The Trojans are coming off their most physical game of the season, one in which they dominated Notre Dame on both sides of the line, and any confidence gained from that success will only benefit them as they prepare for the Cardinal.
As good as Stanford is as a team, the difference-maker, of course, is Luck. There's a reason he would have been the first player chosen in last April's NFL draft, and why he's projected to be the top pick again next year. He is a savvy veteran who makes terrific decisions, can throw and run with equal success, and plays the game with passion.
"Luck has the whole package," Kiffin said. "I just think he's great. He has the ability to convert in key situations, he can run and make plays, he has a linebacker mentality. It's hard to compare him to other great quarterbacks like the ones we've had here, but I think you would be hard pressed to find a more efficient quarterback in the history of college football."
USC will be looking to reverse a recent trend against Stanford, as the Cardinal have won three of the last four games against the Trojans, including the last two at the Coliseum.
The 2007 game was one of the biggest upsets in college football history, as USC came into the game as a 41-point favorite while riding a 35-game winning streak at home. That streak ended when Stanford quarterback Tavita Pritchard, who had never started a game in his college career, hit Mark Bradford with a late touchdown pass over Mozique McCurtis to come away with a 24-23 victory.
In 2009, Luck was at the controls when Stanford pounded out a 55-21 win, one that was led on the ground by tailback Toby Gerhart. It was the most points ever allowed by USC and the first November loss for Pete Carroll at USC.
Last year, the Trojans traveled to The Farm and came up on the short end of a 37-35 result, as Stanford hit a last-second field goal for the win. Luck completed 20 of 24 passes for 285 yards and three scores, but Matt Barkley also had a big game by hitting a then career-high 28 of 45 passes for 390 yards and three TDs. Robert Woods had his "breakout" game with 12 catches for 224 yards and three TD receptions.
All of that only adds to the fever pitch that will be expected at the Coliseum for this game. ESPN's "College GameDay" crew has noticed -- it will be in front of the Peristyle on Saturday morning for its weekly show. USC is looking to prove that it is ready to return to the national stage, and it will have that chance against the highest-rated Stanford team it has faced in a rivalry that dates back to 1905. It should be a good one.
Garry Paskwietz is the publisher of WeAreSC.com and has covered the Trojans since 1997. He can be reached at email@example.com.