SANTA CLARA Five years ago, Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh said, "We bow to no man, no program," and made good on that assertion by knocking the top-ranked USC Trojans off their perch a few months later.
The coach of that USC program at the time would like nothing more than to return that favor tonight.
Pete Carroll's Seahawks enter tonight's game tied for the NFC West lead with the 49ers, who are favored by seven points, and Cardinals at 4-2, and they are displaying their own fear-no-man swagger.
The lasting image from Seattle's dramatic 24-23 win over New England on Sunday was cornerback Richard Sherman, who played for Harbaugh at Stanford, taunting Patriots quarterback Tom Brady as the two walked off the field after the game.
Carroll said he had no problem with the brash attitude.
"I like that our team's kind of got a chip on our shoulder," he said this week. "We all do, and there ain't nothing wrong with that."
The Seahawks and the other NFC West teams are keeping pace with the 49ers by acting a lot like the San Francisco team that went 13-3 last year and ran away with the division.
The 49ers' defense, which uncharacteristically allowed 116 rushing yards to the Giants' Ahmad Bradshaw on Sunday, will try to rebound against Seattle's hard-charging Marshawn Lynch. He ranks third in the league in rushing with 549 yards and has broken more tackles than any tailback this season.
Bradshaw and Lynch are the only running backs to surpass 100 rushing yards against the 49ers in the past 46 games. Lynch had 107 yards and a touchdown in a loss to San Francisco last Dec. 24.
The 49ers' suddenly anemic offense, meanwhile, faces the league's fourth-ranked defense and one that looks an awful lot like San Francisco's top-ranked unit.
The Seahawks, for instance, used one of their draft picks on a speedy inside linebacker, Bobby Wagner, who is currently third on the team in tackles.
"I call him 'Baby Patrick Willis' because I hadn't seen a linebacker move like that since Pat," Seattle fullback Michael Robinson, who spent three seasons with Willis in San Francisco, told the Seattle Times earlier this year.
With its top pick in the draft, 15th overall, Seattle took another linebacker, Bruce Irvin, whom the 49ers were eyeing in the days leading up to the draft.
"We looked at him thoroughly," defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said.
The Seahawks use Irvin like the 49ers used Aldon Smith last season, as a pass-rush specialist, and the rookie already has 4 1/2 sacks.
The Seahawks like to move Irvin all around the formation, but it's a safe bet he'll be frequently lined up opposite the 49ers' left tackle, especially if regular starter Joe Staley is ruled out because of the concussion he suffered Sunday.
If Staley can't play, right guard Alex Boone will make his first start at tackle, and Leonard Davis will step into Boone's usual spot.
The 49ers are unlikely to reveal Staley's status until the last possible moment 90 minutes before kickoff.
Carroll predicted a "hard-fought, claw-and-scratch" fight tonight and for the division this year.
After all, all four NFC West teams are pretty similar.
"Look at the points scored against the teams in our division," Carroll said of the defensive statistic. "We've got four of the top five teams in the NFL right now. (The NFC West) might become one of the more exciting divisions in football because of (defense). We'll see."