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Johnson Returns for USC : Trojans: He will face former teammate Stenstrom of Stanford for last time in college.


PALO ALTO — USC's Trojans go up against their one-time ball boy today, hoping to keep Bill Walsh's team in the downward spiral that has generated an upward spiral of second-guessers and the first rumblings of discontent in Walsh's second Stanford era.

In 1945, Walsh was a 14-year-old ball boy for the football team at USC, scant blocks away from his home, at Vermont and Gage.

In 1994, Walsh is a 63-year-old professor emeritus of football, winner of three Super Bowls and coach of a Stanford team that is 1-3-1, not what Cardinal backers had in mind this year.

One Bay Area newspaper report this week referred to "the collapse" of the Stanford football program.

Another report had Walsh so despondent that he wasn't expected to finish out his five-year contract, that football was no longer fun for him.

"Football is still fun," Walsh said Thursday after practice, laughing.

"We're disappointed, we're struggling right now, but I'm still optimistic about our future here. The talent pool right now is as good as it's ever been at Stanford, but our players are very young and they're still learning how to make things happen."

USC, with a 3-2 record, wants to win two in a row for the first time this year. The Trojans won at Oregon State last Saturday, 27-19, after a 22-7 upset loss to Oregon.

Stanford has lost three in a row. The Cardinal scores plenty of points but has so far been unable to stop anyone.

Today's Stanford Stadium game is the final amateur Rob Johnson-Steve Stenstrom matchup. The two quarterbacks won't meet again until some distant Sunday.

Both played on the 1989 El Toro High team, Stenstrom the senior quarterback and Johnson the junior wide receiver. Four years later, Stenstrom leads the Pacific 10 in passing efficiency with a 148.70 rating. Johnson is fourth at 138.30.

Stenstrom has thrown eight touchdown passes and has a completion rate of 67%. Johnson--in one fewer game--has thrown for three touchdowns and is completing 68% of his passes.

This will be Johnson's first start in two weeks. He sat out last week's Oregon State game because of a sprained right ankle and was troubled by a sore back before that. Johnson will have some additional help today. Wide receiver Ed Hervey returns from a knee injury for the first time in four games. And tailback Leonard Green will play for the first time this season, Coach John Robinson said.

Defensive back John Herpin, who suffered a shoulder injury early in the Oregon State game, is healed and will be at cornerback today.

One of Stanford's few reliable offensive players will be sidelined, Walsh said. Leading rusher Mike Mitchell, who was averaging 108 yards a game, has a sprained ankle and has sat out the last two games.

One thing Stanford does not need is another Walsh book.

His "Rough Magic," with Lowell Cohn, had some choice words for USC and Walsh has spent considerable time smoothing ruffled feathers.


--On USC alumni: "They all want to think they're from Hollywood. Look how they're dressed. Fifty-year-old women with miniskirts."

--"Being a teacher, an educator, does have redeeming value . . . unless it's at USC."

--Once, speaking to his wife while watching the movie "Quo Vadis:" "Look at that big gladiator with the sword and that funny-looking outfit . . . you know what that is, that's the USC band."



* Opponent: Stanford Cardinal.

* Site: Stanford Stadium, Palo Alto.

* Time: 4 p.m.

* Records: USC 3-2, 2-1 in Pac-10; Stanford 1-3-1, 0-2.

* Radio: KNX (1070).

* TV: Channel 7.

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