Five years ago, Stanford took the field a 41-point underdog in the L.A. Coliseum. In 2012 the two programs offer up the best theater in the league.

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The alchemy of Pac-12 scheduling these days gives us a Cal-Stanford game Oct. 20. So why not a Saturday collision representing the most sizzling football rivalry in the conference in the third week of the season?

USC and Stanford, come on down.

Who would have guessed that five years ago, when Stanford took the field a 41-point underdog in the L.A. Coliseum, that in 2012 the two programs would be the best theater in the league?

Rivalry? “You could say that,” affirmed Stanford coach David Shaw.

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Clover Park grad Tavita Pritchard engineered the biggest point-spread upset in the history of the sport in 2007. Two years later on the same field, Stanford’s Jim Harbaugh and USC’s Pete Carroll met at midfield after Harbaugh’s team had gone for a two-point conversion with a 48-21 lead and Carroll posed the classic interrogative: “What’s your deal?”

It got better. Stanford won a 37-35 thriller in 2010, and 56-48 in triple overtime last year. By ’11, Harbaugh and Carroll were doing their sparring in the NFC West, and Shaw made reference to how much more his quarterback, Andrew Luck, did at the line of scrimmage and how much less he had to work with at receiver than USC, comments that didn’t sit so well with the Trojans’ Matt Barkley.

Still, said USC coach Lane Kiffin on the weekly Pac-12 teleconference, “It’s a little more friendly rivalry, a little more respectful, than it was for the last couple of head coaches.”

So it’s rivalry week, while the calendar still says summer. The Oregon-Washington lovefest is on leave until the Huskies can get within a couple of touchdowns. Down south, USC has won 12 of 13 from UCLA. The Trojans and Oregon have developing hostilities, but nothing else sits up and sings.

The takeaway from the Stanford-USC relationship is this: Stanford’s rise has been remarkable, coming when USC has been formidable. It was reinforced last winter, when the Cardinal signed five-star offensive linemen Andrus Peat and Kyle Murphy away from the Trojans, guys Shaw is already calling “difference-makers.”

The Road Mode

Home field favored the Pac-12 last week. Now a couple of teams are trying to solve the riddle of maximizing themselves far to the east, as Cal visits Ohio State and Arizona State travels to Missouri.

Cal, playing at 9 a.m. Saturday, was criticized after a 2008 upset loss at Maryland, but coach Jeff Tedford points out that his team now practices in the morning and should acclimate better.

Meanwhile, detail-obsessed Todd Graham of ASU says the Sun Devils will use the same locker-room air freshener they set out in Tempe, and will bring the same motivational signs.

Says Graham, “We want the routine to be the same as it can be.”

Staying in Vegas?

Ex-Washington assistant Bobby Hauck, head coach at UNLV, is under heavy fire. Washington State’s Friday-night opponent has opened with a triple-overtime loss to Minnesota and a buzz-killing defeat to FCS Northern Arizona.

Newspapers have broached the possibility of an in-season dismissal, while AD Jim Livengood refused comment.

“Obviously, the sky is falling around here,” Hauck said wryly Tuesday.

Hauck, 4-23 in three seasons, has a heavy ex-UW flavor on his staff, with coordinators Brent Myers and J.D. Williams, and two others, Dominic Daste and Tim Hundley.

And what’s more . . .

• Graham on LB Chris Young, who signed with Washington in 2010, didn’t get in and attended a JC: “Wow, he’s a TFL (tackles for loss) machine.” Young has a league-leading five.

• WSU coach Mike Leach added a candid piece of post-mortem to a win over Eastern Washington, crediting EWU’s history, tradition, and then saying, “They can get some guys in school we can’t.”

• UCLA has allowed 54 points — but just six points in second halves. Coach Jim Mora says he and defensive coordinator Lou Spanos both believe in blitz pressure, and “We’ve pressured and been gashed. It’s taken us a little too long to realize that.”

• Just what Oregon State needed after its season opener was scrubbed 10 days ago: A bye.

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