8:00 PM ET, November 29, 2008
Los Angeles Coliseum, LOS ANGELES, CA
With Southern California perennially among the nation's top teams and Notre Dame struggling to return to its winning tradition, there's no question one of college football's most storied rivalries has lost some of its luster.
But with the fifth-ranked Trojans again competing for a spot in a BCS bowl and the Fighting Irish coming off one of the most embarrassing losses in program history, rarely has one of their meetings seemed so one-sided.
USC will be a heavy favorite at home against Notre Dame on Saturday night, as the Trojans look to win their seventh straight game against the Irish and eighth straight game overall.
While Notre Dame holds the historical edge in the 82-year-old series, the Irish have had trouble keeping up with the Trojans in recent seasons -- both on the field and in the rankings.
USC has been ranked in the top 15 for each of its last six meetings with Notre Dame, while the Irish have been unranked three times over that span. The Trojans have won all six while averaging 41.0 points in those games.
Last year's game, a 38-0 USC win in South Bend, was the most lopsided Trojan victory in the series, as Mark Sanchez threw four touchdown passes and USC shut out Notre Dame for the first time since 1933.
"You see where they are; you see where we are," Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis said at the time. "We're at different ends of the spectrum at this point."
The Irish went on to finish 3-9, while the Trojans won the Rose Bowl for the second consecutive year. While Notre Dame's struggles haven't been quite as profound this season, there's reason to believe Saturday's matchup could be just as lopsided.
For one, the Trojans (9-1, 7-1 Pac-10) have won seven straight games since their lone loss at Oregon State on Sept. 25, averaging nearly 40 points while their physical defense has allowed just 46 total points over that span.
USC is coming off a bye week, but coach Pete Carroll's club outscored Stanford 28-6 in the second half of a 45-23 road win on Nov. 15 in its last game, avenging a shocking upset loss to the Cardinal last year.
"We just needed to come out and dominate," offensive lineman Jeff Byers said. "We needed to go and put fear in the opponents' eyes and do what we can do."
Sanchez threw for just 136 yards and two touchdowns in that game, but USC rolled up 282 rushing yards, including 115 and two touchdowns from Stafon Johnson.
Despite their impressive run, the Trojans' chances of reaching a third straight Rose Bowl rest in Oregon State's hands. If the 17th-ranked Beavers beat No. 19 Oregon on Saturday, they'll go to their first Rose Bowl since Jan. 1, 1965, but if they lose and USC wins at UCLA next week, then the Trojans will go back to Pasadena.
Even if Oregon State does win, USC could still earn an at-large bid to a BCS bowl with wins over Notre Dame and the Bruins. The Trojans are currently ranked fifth in the BCS standings, though their chances of reaching the title game appear slim.
"It's interesting, kind of fun for people to speculate maybe we'd go here, maybe we'd go there," Carroll said. "Travel plans and all that have to wait. We're only a couple weeks away from figuring it out. We've waited this long. I think we'll probably be able to make it. We'll just hang on for a bit."
Notre Dame, meanwhile, is bowl-eligible, but the Irish (6-5) certainly aren't feeling good about themselves on the heels of Saturday's 24-23 loss in their home finale to Syracuse -- the first defeat in school history to a team that entered the game with eight losses.
The Irish, who've lost three of four overall, coughed up a 13-point fourth-quarter lead against the Orange and allowed the winning touchdown in the final minute. Notre Dame's 53-yard field goal attempt fell short at the gun, the third field goal Brandon Walker missed in the game.
"Every loss hurts," senior linebacker Maurice Crum Jr. said, "but there's something added to it, being the total situation."
Sophomore quarterback Jimmy Clausen passed for 291 yards and two touchdowns without an interception, but Notre Dame struggled to run the ball, totaling just 41 yards on 28 carries, while Syracuse slashed through the Irish defense for 170 yards on the ground.
In addition to question's about Weis' job security, the Irish were booed and pelted by snowballs from their own fans during the game, which may make it difficult to trek to Los Angeles believing they can beat a top-5 team on the road.
"If you don't go with that mind-set," Weis said, "then you're just asking for a massacre."
Top 25 Overview
Saturday marks the 80th meeting between Notre Dame and USC. Without some help, the Trojans will likely be on the outside of the BCS title game. The Irish are trying to rebound after losing to Syracuse. USC has won six straight in the series.
|Avg Points Allowed||22.3||7.8|