Stanford is USC's highest hurdle

LOS ANGELES -- In this week's installment of The Roundtable, WeAreSC's panelists explain how this weekend's matchup effects the 2011-12 season.

What makes this Stanford game so important to the Trojans' season?

Garry Paskwietz: Last week's victory gave hope to the USC Trojans and their fans. So much of the news surrounding the program for the last year-and-a-half had been negative, and the outlook for the future was uncertain. How much will the sanctions impact the team going forward, is Lane Kiffin the right coach to guide the program? The Notre Dame victory felt like the first genuine sign that everything was going to be ok. On Saturday against Stanford, we find out that either that game was a real indication of a program ready to return to the elite level of college football or there is still plenty of work left to be done.

Steve Bisheff: The Notre Dame game showed Kiffin's program has progressed. The Stanford game will tell us how far.

The Trojans dispensed their most complete performance of the season in South Bend, but the Cardinal offer an entirely different kind of challenge. Stanford is capable of beating any team in the country, including LSU or Alabama. The two SEC teams might have slightly better defenses, but neither of them has an Andrew Luck at quarterback. This is college football's best player at the position since John Elway. And I'm not even sure Elway was as gifted as this guy is in all areas, both physical and mental.

If USC could somehow pull off the upset Saturday, it would immediately elevate the Trojans back into the nation's top tier. Even Pete Carroll's team struggled during his last year on the job. So Kiffin has had to do a measure of rebuilding since taking the helm under difficult circumstances. If he could win this game, it would prove that he has this program almost all the way back, close to where it was in the Carroll golden years. It would also be a strong boon for recruiting. The Coliseum should be sold out and the atmosphere will be electric. Now all the Trojans have to do is go out and try to beat the most balanced team in America.

Greg Katz: The Stanford game will measure just what last week's victory at Notre Dame was worth. From a rivalry standpoint, it was worth a lot. However, nobody is going to argue that Stanford isn't the best team the Trojans will have played thus far. With the game again on national television and being played in the Coliseum, the Trojans have a second consecutive opportunity to validate that the program is on the rise -- in spite of NCAA sanctions -- and show that the Coliseum still rocks.

While the Trojans recruit against Stanford less significantly than with other Pac-12 teams, there are some major recruits this season whom both universities are going after. Perhaps you've heard of San Clemente offensive tackle Kyle Murphy and Atwater Buhach defensive tackle Aziz Shittu? In recruiting, perception can be everything. On Saturday night, a seasonal perception could also be on the line, both in the world of recruiting and the program in general. Call it the moment of truth.

Kyle Williams: I think this game is more important for the next couple of seasons rather than this one. Kiffin is already on a short leash with Pat Haden, and a win over Notre Dame plus a win over Stanford or Oregon could solidify the coach for the next couple of years. This game also has a direct effect on recruiting. With Stanford and USC being in the top two or three for many recruits -- such as OT Kyle Murphy, who could be Matt Kalil's replacement if Kalil goes to the NFL after this season -- a win over Stanford could sway those prospects to become Trojans.