LOS ANGELES — On November 16, 2013, USC and Stanford were the center of the college football universe.
ESPN’s College GameDay was in town for a showdown between the No. 4 Cardinal and the Trojans. 93,607 fans packed the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum to watch a sanctions-depleted USC team revitalized under interim head coach Ed Orgeron battle Pac-12 power Stanford. When the Trojans pulled off the upset on a late field goal by kicker Andre Heidari, the fans poured onto the field at the Coliseum—the only such instance this century that has occurred.
Ten years later, the Trojans and Cardinal will meet once again Saturday. This time, however, it will be their final meeting as members of the Pac-12 Conference. With USC headed to the Big Ten next year and Stanford set to join the ACC (yes, you read that correctly), Saturday night will mark the final matchup between the two storied rivals for the foreseeable future.
Stanford is actually USC’s oldest rival, with the series dating all the way back to 1905. The Trojans and Cardinal have met nearly every year since 1918, with USC claiming an all-time record of 64-34-3 against Stanford (not including the Trojans’ 51-21 in 2005, which was vacated due to NCAA sanctions).
Legendary USC head coach John McKay, who won four national championships with the Trojans in the 1960s and 1970s, famously despised Stanford. When his son J.K., who would go on to play wide receiver for the Trojans, told McKay that he was considering attending Stanford, the head ball coach allegedly told his son, “if it was between Stanford and Red China, I would pay your way to Peking.”
After many lopsided years in favor of USC, however, the rivalry reached a fever pitch from 2007 through 2017. During that time, there was arguably no more entertaining matchup in all of college football, with the Trojans and Cardinal providing us with an instant classic seemingly every year.
There was the infamous 2007 upset, when new head coach Jim Harbaugh and Stanford came into the Coliseum and stunned Pete Carroll’s second-ranked Trojans, who were favored by 41 points.
Two years later, there was the “what’s your deal?” game, where Carroll and Harbaugh got into a heated postgame exchange following a 34-point blowout victory for the Cardinal—the largest defeat of Carroll’s USC tenure.
In 2011, star quarterbacks Andrew Luck and Matt Barkley put on a show in the Coliseum, with Luck and No. 6 Stanford ultimately prevailing 56-48 in a triple overtime shootout.
A year later, Barkley and the Trojans traveled up to Palo Alto ranked No. 2 in the nation, only to be knocked off 21-14 by No. 21 Stanford, derailing USC’s national title hopes before they even began.
In the aforementioned 2013 matchup, USC returned the favor, knocking off No. 4 Stanford and ending a four-game losing streak to the Cardinal.
The following year, the Trojans—this time ranked No. 14—once again defeated Stanford—ranked No. 13—on a late Heidari field goal. The victory was sealed by a late strip sack of Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan by USC linebacker J.R. Tavai.
In addition to their annual regular season meeting, the Trojans and Cardinal met in the Pac-12 Championship Game in both 2015 and 2017. The teams split the two matchups, with No. 7 Stanford winning 41-22 in 2015 and No. 10 USC prevailing 31-28 two years later.
In recent years, however, the rivalry has cooled off a bit, largely due to Stanford’s fall from national prominence. The Cardinal have not played in a bowl game since 2018. After winning just three games in each of his final two seasons, longtime Stanford head coach David Shaw resigned last fall. He was replaced by Troy Taylor, who previously made three consecutive FCS playoff appearances at Sacramento State.
When Stanford visits the Coliseum for the final time on Saturday night, they will arrive with little fanfare. The Cardinal have a new head coach and are 29.5-point underdogs to a Trojans team that is expected to contend for a national title.
Sound a lot like . . . 2007. Doesn’t it?
In this case, USC fans are certainly hoping that history does not repeat itself. But regardless of the outcome, Saturday night, let’s take a moment to appreciate what was once one of the most exciting rivalries in all of college football.
In the future, when the Trojans are preparing to face Penn State in Happy Valley and the Cardinal are welcoming Boston College to Northern California, we will look back fondly on a time when USC and Stanford shared a conference, and all of the classic matchups that they provided us with during that era.
On Saturday night, that era will come to an end.
So long, old foe.