Surging Stanford won't surprise USC this time

LOS ANGELES (AP) - A mere two years after Stanford's last trip to the Coliseum ended with arguably the biggest college football upset of the decade, coaches Jim Harbaugh and Pete Carroll both clearly want to forget it.

It's easy to understand why Carroll wouldn't want to rehash a one-point loss to a 41-point underdog that cemented No. 11 Southern California's reputation for inexplicable defeats in otherwise flawless seasons.

It's a bit tougher to figure out why Harbaugh has so little to say about the most impressive win of his coaching life - until he insists he's got no time to think about anything but the challenges faced by 25th-ranked Stanford in its return to USC on Saturday.

"It was a great thrill of winning, the ultimate feeling of victory," Harbaugh said. "Everything we've been through up to this point has built us to what we are now. The good and the bad, the horrible and the great. This team has matured a lot from 2007."

Stanford (6-3, 5-2) will need that maturity to keep up its late-breaking run at the Pac-10 championship after consecutive wins over Arizona State and Oregon. Yet if the Cardinal can keep rolling at USC (7-2, 4-2) in a game that amounts to a conference title eliminator, it won't be nearly as shocking as that 24-23 win in 2007 - still the Trojans' only loss in 48 home games since 2001.

Stanford won with a script that would have been rejected for its rampant improbabilities by the famed USC film school, particularly that fourth-down TD pass thrown by a backup quarterback in the final minute after a frantic late-game rally. The Cardinal left a stunned Coliseum in their wake - and back home on The Farm, students still walk around campus today in T-shirts reading "Biggest. Upset. Ever."

Carroll didn't plan to mention the loss to his team.

"I won't bring up the visit to their place last year, either," Carroll said of last season's business-as-usual 45-23 win at Stanford Stadium.

Stanford tailback Toby Gerhart sat out the 2007 game with a knee injury that consumed almost his entire sophomore year, while quarterback Andrew Luck had committed to the Cardinal, but was still in high school in Houston. Luck remembers watching the game with friends, saying they "all went nuts" when Stanford ended it with its fourth interception of injured USC quarterback John David Booty, whom Carroll kept in the game with a broken finger on his throwing hand.

Two years later, the Cardinal appear to be in top shape for arguably their most important game since their 1999 run to the Rose Bowl, with a sturdy offense built around Pac-10 rushing leader Gerhart. Stanford is back in the AP Top 25 and bowl-eligible for the first time since the close of the 2001 season.

"This is another huge opportunity, if not bigger than last week," Gerhart said. "We won't get any satisfaction by just beating Oregon and getting to a bowl game."

Nothing is so clear-cut at USC after an inconsistent season from an offense that still hasn't meshed with freshman quarterback Matt Barkley - and which won't have top receiver Damian Williams, who's out with a sprained ankle.

The Trojans' seven-year run of Pac-10 titles is in trouble after a thrashing from Oregon followed by last week's unimpressive win over Arizona State, which featured just one offensive touchdown and Barkley's worst performance.

"There's a lot of things that go into it, (but) I'll take the responsibility for that because it starts with the quarterback," said Barkley, 28 of 60 for just 299 yards with two interceptions in the Trojans' last two games. "We've made a lot of corrections. I've corrected a lot of things in my game, mentally and physically."

For all the Cardinal's apparent advantages, USC still is practically unbeatable at the Coliseum, where the Trojans have played just twice in the past nine weeks. They'll finish the season with three straight home games - and with a little help from Oregon's opponents, the Trojans could still be in the mix for another conference title and a BCS bowl game.

"It feels like it's been a whole year since we've been back to the Coliseum," USC tailback Joe McKnight said. "We've done a lot of work on getting it back to normal this week, and I think we're going to be fine."


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