Stanford maintains a slight hope of advancing to the College Football Playoff if it beats USC in the Pac-12 championship game at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, California, on Saturday, but the Cardinal will need some help elsewhere.
Stanford is seeking its third Pac-12 title in the past four seasons, and USC is trying to become the first team from the South Division to win the conference crown.
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No. 20 USC vs. No. 7 Stanford
7:45 p.m. ET, ESPN
Kyle Bonagura: A lot has changed since Stanford's 41-31 win against USC in Week 3, but the Cardinal still have to be looked at as the favorite going into this game. Their consistency throughout the season and coach David Shaw's track record gives them the edge, but USC's most recent performance against UCLA shows it has the ability to match Stanford's style. Look for Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan to make some plays with his legs in key moments to propel the Cardinal to a third Rose Bowl in his career.
Kevin Gemmell: I find this game to be the most intriguing matchup we could ask for. USC is a very different team than when it faced Stanford in Week 3. Different coach, different offensive philosophy, and the running backs are much improved. The trap for Stanford is not in believing that what worked in September will work in December. The name of the game here is whether USC pulls off big plays. If that happens, the Cardinal are in trouble. But if they can keep the Trojans away from too many chunk plays, and I'm banking my prediction on the fact that they can, Stanford should have just a bit more pop to pull this one out.
Chantel Jennings: The Trojans are going to win for a few reasons. First, Stanford's defense has shown far too often over the past few weeks where and how it's vulnerable. Second, USC running back Justin Davis is hitting his stride and is going to make minced meat of the Cardinal run defense. Third, the media is going to be right. Remember? The media picked USC to win the Pac-12 title in the preseason poll. Forget the fact everyone thought Utah would be crummy and the Utes were ranked in the AP top 5 at one point, or that Washington State was supposed to be even worse than Utah, and the Cougars were close to playing in this game. ... Anyway, the media was right!
David Lombardi: This will be closer than the first go-round, because the Cardinal are less healthy in the secondary and the Trojans are more firmly committed to their power running identity. But Stanford still brings a great amount of diversity on offense, and nothing has happened since the first meeting in September to suggest USC's defense can suddenly stop the Cardinal. Hogan's crew converted 8 of 12 third downs at the Coliseum, and the bet here is on continued success in that regard: Christian McCaffrey, Joshua Garnett, Devon Cajuste and the rest of that Stanford offensive stockpile will pack enough punch to overcome a shaky USC defense.
Ted Miller: Many people make picks based on meticulously reviewed matchups; I'm thinking Gemmell and Jennings here. Others consult their personal oracles on top of snow-capped Himalayan mountains (Lombardi). Still others do mystic dances and spread the entrails of goats (Bonagura). Me? I just ask myself the following questions: What do most people think is going to happen? What should happen? Or, perhaps of highest primacy: What would be best for the Pac-12? Then I pick the opposite. I suspect we're going to see a major upset this weekend in the ACC or SEC title games, which would open a back door for Stanford to slip into the College Football Playoff. That would be good for the Pac-12, right? So, of course, the coyote trickster figure, the Loki-like deus ex machina, will be USC. The preseason Pac-12 pick and the perennial power, the 8-4 Trojans will use momentum fomented by the naming of Clay Helton as their coach -- wait, who? -- to capture the V-bean, otherwise known as the championship trophy.
Kyle Bonagura: 66-25
Kevin Gemmell: 74-17
Chantel Jennings: 70-21
David Lombardi: 69-22
Ted Miller: 69-22