The context, however, might surprise longtime fans of the Trojans.
Stanford, the program legendary coach John McKay once said he would like to beat by 2,000 points, has been praised for its new attitude under fourth-year coach Jim Harbaugh as the model USC would like to emulate.
"I can't imagine there would be a team in the country that you would line up against that would come across on film more physical than these guys in all areas," USC coach Lane Kiffin said. "On Tuesday, I give a report to the team on the upcoming opponent and I really found myself repeating myself in all three phases – physical, disciplined, play hard, hardly make any mistakes. I was saying the same thing for special teams, defense and offense."
The Cardinal (4-1, 1-1 Pac-10) have underdone a complete reinvention under Harbaugh, from conference doormat to going toe-to-toe with heavyweight Oregon before falling 52-31 last week at Autzen Stadium. But it's been against the Trojans (4-1, 1-1 Pac-10) that they have made their name.
There was the 24-23 upset in 2007 that snapped USC's 35-game winning streak in the Coliseum, best remembered for the failure of then-coach Pete Carroll to sit quarterback John David Booty despite suffering a broken finger on his throwing hand.
Last year's result was no such fluke. Led by Heisman Trophy runner-up Toby Gerhart, Stanford smashed the Trojans, 55-21, putting to rest any notions about the dominance of Troy.
Gerhart rushed for 178 yards and three touchdown and quarterback Andrew Luck threw for two touchdowns and had 205 yards of total offense.
Even without the bruising Gerhart, Luck has continued to impress as a redshirt sophomore, throwing for 1,253 yards and 13 touchdowns.
He has done so as his two top receivers, Ryan Whalen and Chris Owusu have been in and out of the lineup with injuries. Owusu suffered a concussion at Oregon and is questionable, while Whalen is expected to return from an elbow injury.
"It doesn't matter who is in there, he plays really well," Kiffin said. "You saw last year, the guy was a freshman and led the Pac-10 in passing efficiency. Now he continues to manage the game extremely well right now. That's why they are hard to beat right now because they are playing good defense and the quarterback is managing the game well."
More impressive is how the rushing attack has continued to thrive, averaging 214 yards rushing per game.
Sophomore Stephan Taylor has emerged as the top back, rushing for more than 100 yards in each of the Cardinal's last two games.
"The number one thing they do – forget run, forget pass, forget scheme – is play physical. That's the most impressive thing," linebackers coach Joe Barry.
"They want to roll up their sleeves and bloody their knuckles. They will say, ‘hey, we're going to bring seven offensive linemen on the field. You know we're running it. Try and stop us.' They force you to play disciplined football. They force you to play physical football."
Of course, USC has its own emerging running back in Allen Bradford. The senior will make his first start of 2010 coming off a career-high 223 yards rushing in a loss to Washington.
Kiffin said he is pleased with how his team has responded since the last-second 32-31 loss to the Huskies and hopes it represents a turning point.
"I talk to them a lot always about understanding football and not overacting either way, just like we didn't overreact when we winning and 4-0 thinking that we were really good because we weren't," he said. "We won't overreact to a one-point loss with so many plays that go the other way and everyone is sitting here saying, ‘wow, you guys found a way to get to 5-0.' We examine what it is and try to get better."
Among the changes expected are bigger roles for freshman running back Dillon Baxter, likely as Wildcat quarterback, and using former starter Chris Galippo as a 3-4 rush linebacker.
Said sophomore safety T.J. McDonald: "You can never erase a loss but you can respond."