When college football fans argue about the sport's best rivalry, several immediately come to mind: Alabama-Auburn. Army-Navy. Ohio State-Michigan. Nick Saban vs. the media.
Ok, so maybe not so much that last one, but we all know about the biggest and best rivalries. However, there is one that has been just as compelling and fun over the past decade that is rarely discussed: USC-Stanford.
It sounds crazy, but the Trojans and Cardinal have been part of some of college football’s craziest games over the years -- games that involved triple-overtime thrillers and games that knocked teams out of the title chase. And thanks to the chaos at USC, it has featured the rise, fall and rise again of the Trojans program on a near annual basis. It has also featured some of the sport’s biggest stars, from Andrew Luck to Richard Sherman, Matt Barkley and Christian McCaffrey, not to mention a smattering of coaching icons.
Need more proof? Here are seven recent games that prove USC-Stanford is the most underrated rivalry in college football.
Stanford pulls off the biggest upset of all-time. Literally (2007)
Although Jim Harbaugh is now among the game’s top coaches, things didn’t start off that way at Stanford. In his first year on the Farm, Harbaugh’s club entered a matchup with the Trojans at just 1-3 and on the heels of an embarrassing 41-3 loss to Arizona State.
USC, meanwhile, was the No. 2 team in the country, two years removed from the Matt Leinart/Reggie Bush era. To make matters worse, Cardinal quarterback Tavita Pritchard was forced to make his first career start in the LA Coliseum.
But for one magical night, it didn’t matter.
Stanford went into the Coliseum and pulled off a 24-23 win, made all the more incredible by the fact that the Cardinal had entered the game as a 41-point underdog. At the time, it was the biggest upset --from a point-spread perspective -- in college football history. It also marked the first time that the Trojans had lost at the Coliseum in six years.
What’s your deal? (2009)
Although Stanford got that historic win at the Coliseum in 2007, it would still be awhile before it “took off” as a program. The Cardinal finished that first year under Harbaugh at 4-8, and then the following year at 5-7. Once again in 2009, they went to USC looking for a signature win … and my goodness did they get it.
A game that was close early became a blowout late, as a Richard Sherman pick-six sparked a 27-0 run in the fourth quarter to turn a close game into a 55-21 blowout. Redshirt freshman quarterback Andrew Luck threw for two touchdowns, while running back Toby Gerhard added three more.
The massive loss was one of the worst ever for USC. At the time, the 55 points was the most USC ever allowed in a game (later topped on the night Lane Kiffin was fired after a 62-41 loss to Arizona State). And for comparison’s sake, it was even more than the Trojans gave up against Alabama earlier this season.
However, this game is most famous for what happened after it.
A clearly frustrated Pete Carroll -- who didn’t seem to enjoy being on the other end of a Pac-10 beat down after administering so many through the years -- met Jim Harbaugh at mid-field and asked him “What’s your deal?”
Harbaugh’s response, “I don’t know, what’s your deal?”
It was one of the most iconic moments in recent college football history, a sign that Harbaugh had arrived as a superstar coach, Stanford had arrived as a program, and was also the first clear proof that the USC dynasty was officially over. Carroll would leave a few months later for the NFL.
A triple-overtime thriller (2011)
By 2011, Pete Carroll and Jim Harbaugh were gone to the NFL and Lane Kiffin and David Shaw were in to replace them. However, it was Andrew Luck, an established star by that point, who stole the show when the team’s played another classic at the Coliseum.
The Cardinal quarterback threw for 330 yards with four total touchdowns (three passing, one running), and helped rally Stanford with a game-tying score with 38 seconds left. It was an iconic game that left the entire country captivated (except for some in the Northeast who lost power in the middle of it, thanks to a snowstorm. Believe me, I was living there at the time).
Although USC lost, it appeared to be a turning point for the Lane Kiffin era. The Trojans won their final four games, including an upset at Oregon and a 50-0 beat down of crosstown rival UCLA.
With most of their team returning, the Trojans entered the next season as the No. 1 team in the country.
The beginning of the end for Kiffin (2012)
By 2012, the narrative had been firmly established: The Trojans were “back!” And in theory, they should have had no problem against the Cardinal, who were in just their fourth game post-Andrew Luck.
But in one of QB Josh Nunes’ few signature moments (he was replaced by Kevin Hogan later that season), the Cardinal pulled off the shocking upset of the No. 2-ranked Trojans. Matt Barkley threw for 254 yards but had two interceptions and had little time in the pocket behind a young offensive line.
USC -- which began the year ranked No. 1 -- would end up losing five of its last six games, putting Kiffin clearly on the hot seat entering the next season.
“Coach O” has his moment (2013)
By 2013 Kiffin was out, replaced on an interim basis by Ed Orgeron. “Coach O” had won four of his first five games entering a matchup with the No. 5 Cardinal (again, at the Coliseum), but few gave USC a chance to win this one.
But behind a solid game running game and an even better defense, the Trojans pulled off the shocking upset on a field goal from Andre Heidari with under a minute to go.
In the process, the Trojans also knocked Stanford out of the race to make the BCS National Championship Game that season.
Sark gets his signature win (2014)
Fast-forward one season, and Steve Sarkisian was USC’s coach -- and the man tasked with “saving” the program. For at least one day, it looked like he’d do exactly that.
In Week 2, the Trojans went to Palo Alto and pulled off a stunning 13-10 victory, thanks to another Andre Heidari game-winning field goal.
USC was “back” (again), and Sark had his signature win.
Christian McCaffrey goes bonkers in the Pac-12 title game (2015)
After meeting earlier in the season, the two teams met in the Pac-12 title game, with the Trojans now coached by Clay Helton (sensing a trend here?). But this game was about Christian McCaffrey.
The Stanford star rushed for 207 yards and tallied three total touchdowns -- one passing, one rushing and one receiving. It was a breakout performance in front of a national audience, and he finished second in the Heisman Trophy race a week later.
What the heck will the Trojans and Cardinal have in store for us this weekend?