After two dominant non-conference wins over Sun Belt teams, the Trojans will return to the Coliseum for the third straight week, this time to host Pac-12 rival Stanford. The beginning of conference play also marks the start of a series of difficult opponents for the Trojans, including Arizona State, Notre Dame and Oregon.The Cardinal have not beaten the Trojans since 2012, when No. 2 USC traveled to Palo Alto and fell to No. 21 Stanford.The Cardinal spoiled USC’s season that year, but a turbulent 2013 Trojan team knocked off No. 4 Stanford the following season under an interim head coach.“The key for us is to stick to the process and believe in the process to get prepared to play a quality opponent,” head coach Steve Sarkisian said. “Because they are a quality opponent doesn’t mean that we should change. We’ve got the right formula, we’ve just got to stick to it and be committed to it.”Redshirt senior quarterback Cody Kessler is 2-0 against the Cardinal.He spearheaded a last-second upset in 2013 with an unranked team to dash No. 4 Stanford’s national championship hopes. Last season, USC and Stanford were ranked No. 14 and No. 13, respectively, and USC again came away with a last-minute 13-10 win in Palo Alto.This season, however, the teams are ranked farther apart. No. 6 USC is 2-0, boasting a 49 and 50 point win difference while Stanford is heading into this matchup unranked for the first time since 2008, starting the season 1-1.Kessler is coming off a career-high 410 yards against Idaho, completing 26 of 31 passes with three touchdown passes on the night.Kessler isn’t complacent, though, and knows that Stanford is an entirely different challenge for the Trojans.“I think it’s important for us [to improve],” Kessler said. “When Stanford and USC play, it’s always a tough game.”Meanwhile, Stanford senior quarterback Kevin Hogan and the Cardinal got off to a shaky start, losing their opening game to Northwestern, 16-6.The offense failed to score a touchdown and Hogan threw for a mere 155 yards and had an interception in the end zone. The defense also struggled, giving up 225 rushing yards.The Cardinal bounced back, though, with a commanding week two win over UCF, 31-7. Like Kessler, Hogan also had a career night last week, completing 17 of 29 passes for a career-high 341 yards and three touchdowns. The defense bounced back as well, holding UCF to just 30 rush yards.“They have their style of play, which they’re committed to, and they’re good at it,” Sarkisian said. “But I also don’t want to shift the focus away from us … We’ve got a good formula for success. I think we understand the process now.”Like in the first two games, Kessler will likely rely on sophomore wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, who appears to be the quarterback’s favorite target. Smith-Schuster has already racked up 14 receptions for 281 yards and three touchdowns in just two games this season.Since Smith-Schuster has already established himself as a favorite this season, the Stanford defense will likely keep a close watch on the sophomore receiver. This shouldn’t be a problem for the Trojans though, as Kessler will have a trio of options in sophomore Adoree’ Jackson, redshirt sophomore Steven Mitchell Jr. and junior Darreus Rogers.The Trojans’ run game will face its first real challenge in the Stanford defense that held UCF to just 30 rushing yards.Redshirt senior tailback Tre Madden and junior tailback Justin Davis will need to step up to maintain USC’s powerful run game against a tough Cardinal defense.“They’re kind of our new rival,” Davis said. “I would say that. We know they’re going to come with intensity. The past few games, they’ve been really, really close. We’ve been going back and forth for a long time.”Stanford will be the first able offense the Trojans have played this season.The defense will face its first real test in fourth-year starter Hogan, who has given the Trojan defense a run for its money in their previous two meetings.Joining Hogan on offense is running back Christian McCaffrey, who will also test ’SC’s rush defense, something that hasn’t happened so far this season.Last season, the defense seemed to fall apart in the fourth quarter, so this is their first opportunity to showcase improvement from last season.“The last time they came down here it came down to a field goal, when we went up there it came down to a field goal,” linebacker Su’a Cravens said. “I’m expecting a tough game, as usual. They’re just physical. They slow the game down, they play at their own tempo. If you’re not going to be as physical as them and match their physically, it’s going to be a long game.”Though the matchup may not appear exciting on paper, the USC/Stanford rivalry has seen two upsets and one really close game in the past three seasons. Kickoff is set for 5 p.m. in the Coliseum.