5 Greatest USC-Stanford Games of the 2000s – Reliving The Historic Rivalry

Stanford arrives at the Coliseum Saturday night for possibly the last time in the foreseeable future. With the Cardinal’s impending move to the ACC beginning in the 2024-2025 collegiate athletic season, while #6 USC has been destined to be Big-10 bound for the better part of a year, this weekend’s matchup temporarily pulls down the curtain on one of college football’s greatest and most underrated rivalries. 

A series that dates back to 1905 with 101 total matchups and the Trojans leading all-time 63-34-3, revived itself in the mid-2000s with the arrival of Jim Harbaugh to “The Farm.” Now, as Stanford quarterback Ashton Daniels makes his second career start against reigning Heisman winner Caleb Williams and the vaunted USC roster, we look back on the greatest games in this rivalry since the turn of the century. 

For Saturday to try and crack this unforgettable list, Daniels will have to play the game of his life in only his second career start. Coming off an impressive 290-yard total offense and two passing touchdown debut in a win over Hawaii last week, he will need to significantly enhance that production with the help of his senior reinforcements: running back Casey Filkins and tight end Benjamin Yurosek, who paced the Cardinal with 138 receiving yards and one touchdown last week. Otherwise, Caleb & Co. should cruise by greater than the current 29.5 betting point margin. 

Without further ado, the 5 greatest USC-Stanford Games of the 2000s.

Five Greatest USC-Stanford Games of the 2000s

#5 – 2010 Game: #16 Stanford 37, USC 35

A year removed from Harbaugh and Pete Carroll infamously met at midfield with the latter asking “What’s your deal?” after the former ran up the score in route to a 55-21 drubbing of the Trojans in the Coliseum, this was one of the most underrated quarterback duels in PAC-12 history. Matt Barkley was magnificent, going 28-45 with 390 passing yards and three touchdowns while spearheading the Trojans to a 35-34 lead with just 1:08 to play. It wasn’t enough as Andrew Luck, courtesy of a sublime 20-24 for 285 yards and three touchdowns of his own, led the game-winning drive for the Cardinal, climaxed by a 30-yard field goal as time expired. 

#4 – 2017 PAC-12 Championship Game: #11 USC 31, #14 Stanford 28

The second greatest game of the Sam Darnold era saw the San Clemente-based signal caller throw for 325 passing yards and two touchdowns, including a seeming nail in the coffin 99-yard touchdown drive in the fourth quarter to push the USC lead to 31-21, culminating in an 8-yard touchdown run by Ronald Jones, who finished with 140 rushing yards and two touchdowns of his own. The Cardinal, led by KJ Costello, brought the game back to within 31-28, but Darnold’s connection to Josh Falo with 53 seconds left on fourth and two clinched what remains the Trojans only PAC-12 title since 2008. 

#3 – 2011 Game: #6 Stanford 56, USC 48 (3OT)

In perhaps the most thrilling game in rivalry history, Nickell Robey looked like the game’s hero after going pick-six on a Luck throw 33 yards to the house that put the Trojans up 34-27 with 3:08 to play in regulation. But as Luck did so many times in his collegiate career, particularly against USC, he engineered a fourth-quarter comeback drive to tie the game with 34 seconds left, capped by a Stepfan Taylor 2-yard touchdown run. The game was frenetic in overtime, culminating with Curtis McNeal fumbling on first and goal from the four-yard line that sent the ball squirting into the end zone for the Cardinal to recover and seal the iconic victory. Yet another Luck-Barkley epic duel with the two combining for 614 passing yards and six touchdowns. 

#2 – 2013 Game: USC 20, #4 Stanford 17

Ed Orgeron was asked on the sideline seconds before kickoff how the Trojans were expected to compete with the #4 Cardinal after four consecutive losses to Stanford and a season that saw the firing of Lane Kiffin earlier in the year at the LAX tarmac after a humiliating defeat to Arizona State. “Because we’re Trojans, it’s what we do,” is how the beloved interim coach with the trademarked raspy voice brashly answered.

The Trojans made a prophet out of Orgeron that night as the Trojans stunned national championship contender Stanford with a 47-yard field goal by Andre Heidari with 19 seconds to go. It was the first and only time Trojan fans rushed the Coliseum field in the 21st century. The Trojan Family should still feel chills from this one.

#1 – 2007 Game: Stanford 24, #2 USC 23

This is the game that started the rivalry’s modern renaissance and to this day, arguably the greatest upset in college football history. 1-3 Stanford shocked 41.5-point favorite and national title preseason darling USC, at the peak of the Carroll era. Tavita Pritchard threw a jump ball 10-yard touchdown pass to Mark Bradford with 49 seconds left on fourth and goal that snapped the Trojans 35-game home winning streak.

It was the official beginning of the Harbaugh era at Stanford, and its most significant win. The loss cost USC a berth in the BCS title game and in an unprecedented moment, all Trojan fans that remained in the Coliseum gave the Cardinal a standing ovation as Stanford left the field. Acknowledging the transcendent historical moment witnessed as well as the sheer magnitude of Stanford’s achievement. 

What a rivalry. What a pity it has to end.