Jae C. Hong, Associated Press
STANFORD, Calif. — David Shaw sat in a chair speaking to a round table of reporters about his Stanford team's upcoming game against Southern California this week. At the same time, Lane Kiffin was talking to writers on a conference call from Los Angeles when someone asked about the relationship between the young coaches, given the hostility that surrounded their predecessors.
"It's a little more friendly rivalry," Kiffin said, sarcastically, "a little more respectful than it was for the last couple of head coaches."
Kiffin's comments immediately spread across social media, countless blogs and websites. In a matter of minutes, Shaw was asked if he had a response.
"My response is, 'Thanks, Lane,'" Shaw said, laughing, crossing his arms on the table and putting his head down and trying to regain his composure. "I don't have a response to that. Lane and I get along very well. We would love to beat each other. But at the same time, he and I, we're fine."
At least for now.
If history has shown anything in a rivalry between the Pac-12's private California schools that dates back to 1905, things can change in a hurry. The second-ranked Trojans (2-0) visit the No. 21 Cardinal (2-0) Saturday afternoon for the latest chapter of what has been one of the country's most captivating matchups over the past five years.
The relationship between the two head coaches certainly seems more cordial than what Jim Harbaugh and Pete Carroll ever showed for each other, climaxing with Carroll's infamous "What's your deal?" confrontation after Harbaugh happily went for a late two-point conversion with a 48-21 lead against the Trojans in 2009.
Most of that can be traced to their football fathers. Monte Kiffin, now the defensive coordinator at USC, and Willie Shaw were together on the Minnesota Vikings' staff in the early 1990s. Kiffin has only faced Stanford as USC's head coach twice, going 0-2, including last season's 58-46 triple-overtime thriller that Andrew Luck engineered at the Coliseum when the quarterback led the team on four straight touchdown drives.
Forgive the players if they're not quite ready to call this matchup friendly.
Stanford players have been labeled "nerds" for decades — a moniker players now embrace on game days on social media — and have been beaten and bruised for most of the last century by USC's dynasties. The Trojans lead the series 58-28-3, although the dominance has recently evaporated.
"It's kind of a general distaste," said new Stanford quarterback Josh Nunes, who grew up a Cardinal fan in the Los Angeles suburb of Upland.
Tracking Stanford's rise as an improbable college football power can be traced back to the USC contests.
In a night game in 2007, Harbaugh's Cardinal recorded one of the most stunning upsets in college football history, snapping the No. 2 Trojans' conference-record 35-game winning streak with a one-point victory as a 41-point underdog. Three years ago, Stanford returned to Los Angeles for the highest-scoring performance ever against USC, cementing its rivalry reversal with that 55-21 thrashing that led to the Harbaugh-Carroll confrontation.
"We bow to no program here at Stanford," Harbaugh said earlier that year.
The Cardinal escaped when Luck led a last-minute drive for a winning field goal as time expired in 2010 at Stanford Stadium. And last year might have been the game of the season in college football, with Luck and USC's Matt Barkley — this year's Heisman Trophy favorite and the NFL's likely No. 1 overall pick — matching touchdown drives until Stanford recovered Curtis McNeal's fumble in the third overtime for the victory.
While McNeal downplayed the fumble and said this week he was "able to put it away later that night," not everybody digested the loss easily.
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