for this game

Stanford-Southern Cal Preview

Nov 11, 2009 - 5:27 AM By MATT BECKER STATS Senior Writer

Stanford (6-3) at No. 9 USC (7-2), 3:30 p.m. EDT

With four weeks remaining in the regular season, the Pac-10 race is wide open.

Not surprisingly, Southern California - winner of seven consecutive conference titles - is one of the teams in the running.

Considerably more unexpected, Stanford is also in the hunt for its first league championship in a decade.

Ranked for the first time in eight years, the No. 25 Cardinal look to build on an impressive victory and move closer to a conference title when they visit the 11th-ranked Trojans on Saturday.

Stanford (6-3, 5-2) was picked to finish sixth in the Pac-10 preseason media poll but is in the mix to win its first league title since 1999.

Things weren't looking good for the Cardinal after losing back-to-back games to Oregon State and Arizona in mid-October, but they've bounced back to win their last two, including last Saturday's 51-42 victory over then-No. 7 Oregon.

With the win over the Ducks, Stanford became bowl eligible for the first time since Tyrone Willingham's final year as coach in 2001. The Cardinal were also rewarded with a spot in the Top 25 for the first time since ending the 2001 season at No. 16, following a loss to Georgia Tech in the Seattle Bowl.

While Stanford is excited about the ranking, the team has bigger goals.

"Our goal is to win the Pac-10 championship," coach Jim Harbaugh said. "We're still alive for that. We'll go next week down to USC and play a great football team down there and try to keep those hopes alive."

Stanford lost to USC 45-23 last season, but in the last meeting at the Coliseum in 2007, the Cardinal beat the 41-point favorite Trojans 24-23.

USC (7-2, 4-2) was being counted out of the conference race just a week ago following a 47-20 loss at Oregon, its worst defeat under ninth-year coach Pete Carroll. But Carroll's team bounced back with last Saturday's 14-9 win over Arizona State.

Despite the victory, the Trojans, who have owned at least a share of the Pac-10 title each season since 2002, struggled to put away a mediocre Sun Devils team.

The offense gained a season-low 258 yards and was bailed out by a defense that created a season-high four turnovers, including Will Harris' 55-yard interception return for a touchdown.

While the defense came up with some key stops, it had trouble slowing down Arizona State, yielding 347 yards. The Trojans are allowing an average of 480.7 yards in their last three games and will need to shore up some defensive miscues against a Stanford team averaging 520.7 yards of offense in its last three.

USC's offense has looked sluggish the past two weeks, combining to score 34 points after averaging 33.3 points in winning its previous four games.

Freshman quarterback Matt Barkley is in the middle of these offensive struggles.

In his least productive game, Barkley completed 7 of 22 passes for 112 yards with one touchdown and one interception against the Sun Devils, who gave up 75 of those yards on a single short pass to Damian Williams.

Barkley has 10 touchdowns to seven interceptions on the season and the Trojans' passing offense ranks eighth in the Pac-10 with 221.6 yards per game.

While USC's passing game is struggling under its first-year quarterback, the Cardinal's offense is rolling behind its freshman signal-caller.

Andrew Luck completed 12 of 20 passes for 251 yards and two touchdowns against the Ducks, and has thrown for 2,076 yards with 11 TDs to just three interceptions on the season.

He is joined in the backfield by running back Toby Gerhart, who leads the Pac-10 in both rushing yards (1,217) and rushing touchdowns (16).

Gerhart is coming off an outstanding performance, running for a school-record 223 yards and three scores against Oregon. The senior has seven 100-yard games on the season, and finished with 101 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries against USC last season.

"They're playing lights-out," Carroll said of Stanford. "I don't know how we're going to slow them down. I don't know, but we'll figure that out."

Carroll is hoping his team can take advantage of finishing the regular season with three straight home games after playing just two of their previous eight at the Coliseum. USC has won 12 consecutive home games since the loss to Stanford in 2007.

"Hopefully as we finish up this year, we can really create a big stir at the Coliseum," Carroll said.

"We've got to take care of business," he added. "That's a huge, huge opportunity for us."