USC’s Recent History Against The Big Ten

Many have pondered whether or not the Trojans will be able to handle a yearly slate of their soon-to-be conference opponents. However, USC's recent history against the Big Ten is better than one might think. 

Will Simonds
The USC Trojans Host The San Jose State Spartans At The Coliseum. Photo Credit: Ahmad Akkaoui | LAFB Network
The USC Trojans Host The San Jose State Spartans At The Coliseum. Photo Credit: Ahmad Akkaoui | LAFB Network

USC’s Recent History Against The Big Ten

With USC set to join the Big Ten conference in 2024, the Trojans’ conference schedule will almost completely change, aside from the yearly rivalry with UCLA that should remain. Many have pondered whether or not the Trojans will be able to handle a yearly slate of their soon-to-be conference opponents. However, USC’s recent history against the Big Ten is better than one might think.

Since 2000, USC owns a rather dominant 14-3 head-to-head advantage over Big Ten opponents, including bowl games. That record makes for a .823 win percentage. In comparison, the Trojans’ record against Pac-12 opponents over that same time frame is 135-58, including Pac-12 Championship Games, which comes out to just a .699 win percentage. Now, that doesn’t mean the move to the Big Ten will all of a sudden make things much easier for USC going forward, but it is worth noting.

To break it down further, USC is 3-0 at home in those 17 games against the Big Ten, in addition to 8-3 in neutral site games. The latter record includes a 5-0 advantage in Rose Bowl games (against Big Ten teams), in each of which USC had a major home crowd advantage.

But a major question for USC fans remains: how have the Trojans fared in late-season road games with freezing-cold temperatures in Big Ten country, as they will inevitably face going forward?

Well, it’s complicated. While USC is 3-0 on the road against its future conference opponents since 2000, each of those games took place no later than September 18. The weather didn’t play much of a factor in any of those contests.

So let’s shift our focus a bit. USC does have a yearly rivalry game against a Midwest opponent that — according to widespread speculations — may also be joining the Big Ten in the near future. That team, of course, would be Notre Dame.

USC has played in South Bend 11 times since 2000, winning five straight from 2003-11, but losing each of the five since. Those games all took place sometime in mid-to-late October when the weather can play more of a role in games. It’s also worth noting that USC has experienced some cold conditions on the road against Utah, Colorado, and Washington State in the past, though the Trojans haven’t played in a game that featured active snowfall since 1957.

Returning back to the Big Ten, let’s break down USC’s recent history against its soon-to-be conference opponents. USC has actually never played Rutgers or Maryland, the conference’s two most recent entrants prior to last week. In addition, the Trojans haven’t faced four Big Ten schools since before the turn of the century: Indiana (last game in 1982), Michigan St (1990), Northwestern (1995), and Purdue (1998).

USC’s most recent matchup against a Big Ten school came in the 2019 Holiday Bowl against Iowa, in which the No. 19 Hawkeyes routed the No. 22 Trojans in the second half to win 49-24. The previous matchup back in 2003 went much differently, as No. 5 USC crushed No. 3 Iowa 38-17 with 550 yards of total offense.

In the 2017 Cotton Bowl, while ranked eighth in the nation, USC lost to No. 5 Ohio State 24-7 due to four costly turnovers, negating a strong performance by Sam Darnold in his last game in the cardinal and gold. The Trojans did win both halves of a home-and-home against the Buckeyes in 2008-09. The first was a 35-3 rout while USC was ranked as the top team in the country, and the second featured an iconic game-winning drive orchestrated by Matt Barkley (which can be relived here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=53WVU74tSVs).

Another one of USC’s most memorable wins against a Big Ten opponent in recent memory also featured Darnold: the 2017 Rose Bowl. The No. 9 Trojans scored 17 unanswered points in the fourth quarter, including a game-winning field goal as time expired, to knock off No. 5 Penn State 52-49. Darnold’s 453 passing yards and five touchdowns overcame Saquon Barkley’s 249 yards from scrimmage and three touchdowns in an all-time classic Rose Bowl Game. USC won much more comfortably in its two previous contests against the Nittany Lions: a 38-24 Rose Bowl victory in 2009 and a 29-5 rout to open the 2000 season.

Likewise, USC has won its last three matchups against Nebraska. The Trojans swept a home-and-home with the Huskers in 2006-07, winning each by 18 points. The other win came by just 3 points in the 2014 Holiday Bowl; Javorious Allen’s 152 yards and pair of touchdowns on the ground proved to be the difference for USC.

The final of the Trojans’ three losses to the Big Ten since 2000 came in 2015 at the hands of Wisconsin in yet another Holiday Bowl (yes, that’s three in six years if you forgot). The Badgers took a 23-21 lead with a field goal inside the last three minutes, and USC was stopped at midfield in the final seconds to end a forgetful 8-6 season.

Let’s get back to the wins now. The Trojans won their second of three straight Rose Bowls on New Year’s Day 2008 over Illinois. No. 6 USC dismantled the No. 13 Illini 49-17, behind 633 yards of offense and four forced turnovers.

Two more wins came in a rather uneventful home-and-home against Minnesota in the 2010-11 seasons. A 97-yard kickoff return touchdown by Robert Woods was the highlight of the first matchup, a 32-21 USC win in Minneapolis. In the second, the Trojans held on despite being held scoreless in the second half to edge out the Gophers 19-17.

Finally, USC is also 2-0 against Michigan since the start of the century. Both triumphs came by two touchdowns in the Rose Bowl within a four-year span. The first time around, of course, USC won the first of its consecutive National Championships in 2003. Matt Leinart won MVP of the game with 327 passing yards, three passing touchdowns, and a memorable touchdown reception that all but iced the game (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gcHO1E7KuQs).

In the rematch in 2007 — this time without a national title on the line, thanks BCS — the No. 8 Trojans rolled over the No. 3 Wolverines again by the final score of 32-18. The connection between John David Booty and Dwayne Jarrett was unstoppable, as the two connected 11 times for 205 yards and a pair of scores. So, it’s probably safe to say the Big Ten opponent USC fans remember most fondly will be Michigan.