Chicago Colleges: USC Trojans

Irish TE commit Luatua wants to see USC 

December, 28, 2013
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ORLANDO -- Let the season of indecision begin.

Tyler Luatua (La Mirada, Calif./La Mirada), the No. 1-rated tight end nationally who committed to Notre Dame on Dec. 16, said he’s interested in looking more closely at hometown USC.

Irish lunch links

October, 21, 2013
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Eli's chance to once again prove his superiority in the family tonight ...

Five Things: USC at Notre Dame

October, 18, 2013
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Here's what to watch for when the USC Trojans pay a visit to the Notre Dame Fighting Irish on Saturday:

1. Orgeron in South Bend: This will be the first big test of Ed Orgeron’s tenure as interim coach and it’s a doozy. The game is expected to be a physical battle -- which should fit Orgeron just fine -- but there’s something about this rivalry which can bring out some interesting twists and turns. How Orgeron manages his team during those twists and turns will go a long way in the eventual outcome.

2. Momentum: Both teams come into the game looking to continue momentum. For the Irish, the majority of the momentum was built in 2012 when the team advanced to the national title game. There was a lot of excitement around the program for 2013 and you know they didn’t expect to have two losses at this point in the season. They certainly don’t want a third at the expense of the Trojans. USC, meanwhile, is riding a wave of Orgeron-inspired emotion over the last two weeks since the coaching transition. The Trojans would love to see a victory against the Irish to build on what Orgeron has already accomplished.

3. Lee and Breslin: The Trojans beat Arizona last week without arguably their best players on offense and defense. Marqise Lee (knee) and Morgan Breslin (hip) sat out the game against the Wildcats, but there is optimism both will be able to play this week. There’s no discounting how big that would be for the Trojans. Lee has yet to have a true Marqise Lee-type game this year but you know it’s due at any time. Even his simple presence on the field will help loosen the coverage on Nelson Agholor, who is also capable of big things. As for Breslin, he is the most productive pass rusher the Trojans have, and the Irish have only given up four sacks this year. That gives a clear indication of why Breslin is needed in this game.

4. Big man on Big man: Former USC assistant coach Marv Goux had a special passion for this rivalry that he described as "Big Man on Big Man Football." The matchup on Saturday should be a classic return to that style as both teams will be looking to rely on the guys up front. As mentioned above, the Irish offensive line has been outstanding this year in terms of protecting the quarterback. The USC front seven has been very good as far as sacks and tackles for loss. That’s a good “strength on strength” battle that should be fun to watch. On offense, the Trojans will be looking to establish the run with a good rotation of backs, while the Irish counter with a pair of big-time run-stuffers in the middle of their line.

5. Clay Helton: The new offensive play-caller for the Trojans is going to be critical in this game. If there is an area of concern it is with the USC secondary, which has proven to be vulnerable against the pass this year. The best way to limit the Notre Dame opportunities on offense is to control the ball when you have it. This is where Helton will need to be sharp. He will need to spread the ball around to his various weapons and get Cody Kessler in a rhythm, but first he will need to establish the run. For the Trojans to win the game they will need to be able to run the ball with consistency. Fortunately for Helton, he has the offensive line and backs to do it.

Photo gallery: Notre Dame-USC

October, 17, 2013
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It's Notre Dame. It's USC. It's as big of a rivalry as there is nationally involving nonconference opponents, with memorable moments both recent and not-so-recent.

ESPN has a photo gallery chronicling many of the schools' big matchups that you can view here.

Saturday will mark just the third Notre Dame-USC game that I have covered. The first one featured shiny new helmets, a big upset and, of course, the birth of "Crazy Train" inside Notre Dame Stadium. All the second one had was one team clinching a BCS title game berth.

Suffice it to say, I'm looking forward to Saturday night's showdown in South Bend.

Carlisle gets another view of ND-USC

October, 17, 2013
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Amir Carlisle was able to visit his family during this past bye weekend. He would not have been able to do that were he still at USC.

[+] EnlargeAmir Carlisle
Matt Cashore/USA TODAY Sports Amir Carlisle looks for his third straight win in the USC-ND rivalry.
Carlisle has played for the same head coach all season. He also would not have been able to do that were he still at USC.

And the redshirt sophomore is going for his third straight win Saturday in the USC-Notre Dame rivalry — one more perk he would not have the shot at had were he still a Trojan.

Yes, it appears much has worked out for Carlisle since his switching of sides in what is perhaps the nation's most-storied cross-country rivalry. After following his family to the Midwest once father Duane was hired by Purdue as its director of sports performance, Carlisle now finds himself on the more stable end of the rivalry. He and the Irish will welcome his old friends and new foes for Saturday's primetime showdown at Notre Dame Stadium, in what will be Ed Orgeron's second game as interim coach.

It is quite a role reversal from Carlisle's first game inside the venue, when the then-true freshman and his Trojans delivered a death-blow to Notre Dame's BCS hopes in a 31-17 upset that propelled USC to a 10-2 finish and a top-5 ranking.

"It was the most, I guess you could say, live environment that we had that season," Carlisle said. "It was Notre Dame. Coach [Lane] Kiffin preached that the whole entire week, that this was a big game, this was Notre Dame. And I remember the energy that we had going into that game, it was very high. We got off the bus rocking the bus, so it was a great experience to come here and actually play."

The turnaround has been somewhat emotional for Carlisle this week as he readies to face Marqise Lee, George Farmer, Antwaun Woods and some of his good friends still out in Los Angeles.

His father said that the family had a pastor pray over Carlisle back home this past weekend to help keep him from getting overwhelmed by the different forces at play entering the game.

"I'm not going to lie," Carlisle said. "Yeah, there's an excitement for me personally to be able to face my former team. I'm not going to let that excitement deter me from my focus on the game itself. I'm going to approach this game like any other game, but there is a little extra excitement."

Carlisle's workload has taken a dramatic dip over the Irish's past three games, as he has received just eight total carries after getting the call 30 times through the first quarter of the season. A Week 3 fumble late at Purdue had put the Irish's win in jeopardy and has minimized his opportunities since.

His father, who was on the Boilermakers' sideline for the contest, said the scene unfolded in slow motion for him.

"I just hear everybody saying, 'Ball's out! Ball's out!' " Duane Carlisle said. "And everybody's ecstatic on our sideline, the whole stadium erupts, I can only imagine what the coaches are thinking on the other sideline and I was just frozen, I was frozen. That's my son, and to know that he had all that on his shoulders in that moment was tough. It was tough. If I could've called a timeout myself and tell him things are going to be OK, I would've."

Instead, he later hopped on a three-way phone call with his son and a former player of his, 49ers star Frank Gore. Carlisle was a ball boy when his father worked for San Francisco before the Purdue move, and he received a hands-on education from a number of NFL veterans. Gore, Duane Carlisle said, had taken Amir under his wing, and he wanted to help the fellow running back put the gaffe behind him after the Purdue game.

This weekend will mark the second reunion of sorts in the past five games for Carlisle, who missed all of last season because of an ankle injury suffered shortly after the NCAA granted him a transfer waiver to play immediately. With USC and Notre Dame his top targets coming out of King's Academy in Sunnyvale, Calif., and with his father then employed by the 49ers, Carlisle had ultimately chosen the Trojans three years ago, with their proximity to Hollywood and his desires to become an actor then serving as heavy factors. The family's move to the West Lafayette, Ind., area made his switch to Notre Dame ideal, and he is still able to major in film, along with management information systems.

Carlisle will see many familiar faces Saturday night, though not the one who had brought him to USC, as Kiffin was fired five games into this season. The reviled ex-coach has been an easy target for much of his career, but the Carlisles are thankful for the time they spent with him.

"Lane Kiffin did right by us, totally," Duane Carlisle said. "I hate to see a man lose his job. He loved Amir. He did right by Amir. I don't have anything negative to say about USC as a football program."

Up for debate: USC-Notre Dame

October, 16, 2013
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USC travels to Notre Dame Stadium for a Saturday night showdown in what is one of the nation's top rivalries. Both teams are 4-2 and unranked, but the Trojans appeared to have been granted a new lease on life under interim coach Ed Orgeron, as they topped Arizona in their first game without Lane Kiffin in charge. The Irish, meanwhile, are coming off a much-needed win over Arizona State and a bye, as they look to make it three-for-their-last-four against USC after previously dropping eight in a row.

Matt Fortuna and Ted Miller take a look at this weekend's matchup.

Matt: We'll start with the obvious, Ted. USC is a talented team that just got a bit of a second wind this past week under Orgeron. Was the performance against Arizona simply the culmination of weeks of frustration? Or do you think these Trojans have new life and need to be looked at as the kind of threat many of us have been expecting them to be the last two years?

Ted: Is it fair for a know-it-all sportswriter to type that he has no idea? USC has been so difficult to read the past two seasons. You look at the 22 starters and think, "That's a lot of talent." But it doesn't translate to execution. Was that all Kiffin's fault? I don't think so, though the offense looked significantly better with Clay Helton calling the plays. Even the quasi-redemptive win over Arizona revealed the Trojans' tangible Achilles heel -- depth. USC jumped to an impressive first-half lead but seemed to wear down in the second half. I do think the locker room will continue to unite around Orgeron, as fiery a motivator as there is. The question is whether USC will be as motivated and focused on the road as it was at home. And can it maintain that in the fourth quarter?

Speaking of mercurial teams, the Fighting Irish. I picked Notre Dame to beat Arizona State (reaches around, pats self on back), but I did that as much because of the Sun Devils' tendency to throw up on themselves just when they seem to take a step forward as believing the Irish were better. Where does this team stand? How did the week off help -- or hurt -- the cause?

Matt: Well, this answer may sound quite familiar, too, but I think we're all still trying to figure out the Irish. A loss to ASU would have been brutal, as BCS hopes would have been eliminated by the mid-point of the season. Of course, USC can erase those scenarios this week, too, much the same way it did two years ago in a similar situation -- seventh game of the season, prime time at Notre Dame Stadium, Irish coming off a bye. Everyone slept on those Trojans that time, and they ended up turning in a 10-2 campaign while the Irish locker room nearly revolted on its head coach in that game's aftermath.

Notre Dame's front-loaded schedule looks a little less daunting in retrospect -- losses to Michigan and Oklahoma look worse by the week, as does a tight win at Purdue. But there is that small matter of Stanford underwhelming, too, and the Cardinal are easily the toughest opponent the Irish have left after the USC one, so it is not out of the question to see Notre Dame make a final push for a 10-2 mark and BCS bid.

That said, it needs to take some of the lessons from the ASU win and apply them moving forward. Coach Brian Kelly showed his players a highlight tape of three tight wins from 2012 leading up to that game in an effort to demonstrate just how razor-thin the margin for error was. We saw a much more complete performance from the Irish against the Sun Devils, but there was still a pick-six and a defense that looked little like last year's dominating unit.

I'll say this: USC's improved play under the one-game regime of Orgeron has seemed to add a much-needed jolt going into this matchup. It's USC-Notre Dame, with the Irish looking like they may have turned a corner in the rivalry last year and going for three wins out of four this year. Do you think the Trojans, having seen the Irish clinch a title-game berth on their field last season, carry a bit of a chip on their shoulder coming into this year's game? I know it sounds cliche, but from over here it looks like USC's 2013 issues have been more mental than anything else.

Ted: This is one of the truly great college football rivalries, one that is unique with its cross-country feel. If the Trojans can't get fired up for this one, then that will show you the Trojans' problems were as much the sort of player they recruited as the guy leading them onto the field. And, of course, in a rivalry game, the players who lost the year before should be particularly motivated to exact revenge.

Still, I see that as an uphill slog for USC. For one, the Trojans are banged up, with receiver Marqise Lee and outside linebacker Morgan Breslin, among others, highly questionable for the game. Second, Notre Dame is superior on both lines. I see USC hanging early but then getting worn down. Further, the pass defense has been poor, which means Irish quarterback Tommy Rees could again look like the solid decision-maker he was against Arizona State.

That said, if USC does manage to get the upset, we might have to re-evaluate USC's prospects this season. And, perhaps, even raise an eyebrow at what Orgeron is doing leading the Trojans.

Redfield still learning little things

October, 9, 2013
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Max Redfield will look across the field next weekend and see up to three different former high school teammates when Notre Dame renews its rivalry with USC.

Yes, the Fighting Irish's matchup with the Trojans will be a big contest, for reasons both both pragmatic and, in Redfield's case, kind of personal.

[+] EnlargeMax Redfield
Brian Spurlock/USA TODAY SportsHighly touted freshman safety Max Redfield has seen almost all of his playing time this season come on special teams.
"I want to say it's not, but obviously I have previous connections to USC, a lot of people I know on that team," Redfield said Tuesday. "But once it comes down to it, it's just another opponent. You prepare for every team the same way and it's just another game."

The Irish's bye week gave way to six true freshmen making their media debuts this week, with Redfield highlighting the group given all of his promise and, frankly, lack of production.

It is not that the four-star athlete from powerhouse Mission Viejo (Calif.) High has underperformed through six college games; it is that he has rarely gotten the chance to.

Redfield is as upset as all of the outsiders, but he knows that ultimately falls on him and him alone.

"Yeah, I mean, I feel frustrated still," Redfield said. "I still don't have everything down like I obviously want to. Still making the little mistakes that you obviously need to get down to be a big contributor in the game, and that's why obviously I'm not there. And yeah, it's a process, like the coaches keep telling me, and I've tried to accept it. It's still frustrating, obviously."

The 6-foot-1, 194-pound Redfield arrived on campus this summer as ESPN's No. 2 overall athlete from the Class of 2013. He has appeared in five of six games, making just two tackles and spending most of his time on the kickoff, kick return and punt return units.

Redfield said his first week on campus served as a wake-up call, with the newcomer soon figuring out how much learning he had in front of him despite starring at a prep machine that has sent 18 players to FBS schools in the last five years.

The talent is there. The confidence that comes with mastering a position that essentially demands a type-A personality is slowly coming along.

"Probably just being demonstrative with the calls," Redfield said of his biggest struggle. "You need to know -- obviously depending on what formations, all that kind of stuff -- what defenses to make the specific call, and if you don't know a certain formation and how that defense goes with that formation, then you can't make the call.

"I felt like I was a pretty demonstrative person in high school, and obviously it's harder to be that in college if you don't know what's going on fully."

Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said earlier this week that Redfield was closer to moving into a bigger role, reiterating the weight of what the rookie is tasked with doing.

"There's so many calls, so many things going on out there," Kelly said. "It's a quarterback position when you're out there at that safety position. It's not just dropping into Cover 2."

The next opportunity for Redfield to demonstrate that growth comes Oct. 19 in a night contest against USC, which will be playing its second game under interim coach Ed Orgeron. Redfield decommitted from the Trojans last November, but he is not patting himself on the back for avoiding a program just months before it let go of its head coach, Lane Kiffin, who lasted all of five games this season.

"I try to just focus on the now," Redfield said. "I'm at Notre Dame now. I don't really think about USC as much. Notre Dame's a great school. [USC's] having their troubles. I'm sure they'll pick it back up. It's a great university and a great team."

Weekend recruiting wrap: Big Ten 

September, 30, 2013
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The Big Ten doesn’t need an entire schedule of games to make news, and it proved it in the recruiting world.

Here’s a look at what happened off the field in yet another busy weekend of looking toward the future.


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Take 2: Notre Dame vs. the Pac-12

June, 21, 2013
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Notre Dame and the Pac-12 clash three times in 2013. First, it's Arizona State on Oct. 5 in Arlington, Texas. Then, the Irish host USC on Oct. 19 before closing out the season Nov. 30 at Stanford. Is any one of the three games more intriguing than the others? Notre Dame blogger Matt Fortuna and Pac-12 blogger Kevin Gemmell weigh in.

Matt Fortuna: The USC game is the USC game. It's another night game at Notre Dame Stadium, and we all know the Irish do not want a repeat of 2011, when the Trojans beat them from start to finish in the building's first night contest in 21 seasons, which all but ended the Irish's BCS bowl hopes in the middle of the season.

The Arizona State game comes at a crucial time for both teams -- sandwiched between the Irish's Oklahoma tilt and their bye and following a three-week stretch of Wisconsin, Stanford and USC for the Sun Devils. But I've still got my eyes on Stanford, for a number of reasons.

For one, Notre Dame and Stanford seem to mirror each other, from the classroom standards to the smash-mouth, defensive-oriented style of football both displayed during BCS bowl seasons in 2012. One needs to look no further than last Oct. 13, with "College GameDay" in town and the rain coming down hard in South Bend, Ind.

It wasn't just that the Irish finally beat the Cardinal that day, it was the way that they did it -- utilizing an overtime goal-line stand to top a team that, in victories in the three seasons prior, had outrushed Notre Dame by a 642-208 margin.

Notre Dame outgained Stanford on the ground in their 2012 matchup.

Stanford was the standard, and Notre Dame passed it in fitting fashion.

When the Irish topped USC six weeks later to clinch a BCS title game spot, athletic director Jack Swarbrick said that the Stanford game was what made him think the program had turned a corner and could pull off the run it did last fall. When Stanford topped Wisconsin to win the Rose Bowl, Cardinal coach David Shaw called the Irish contest a turning point, as the team went on to win its final eight games.

With this season's game serving as both teams' regular-season finale, the stakes might be even higher.

Sure, the loss of quarterback Everett Golson hurts Notre Dame's chances at reaching another BCS title game. But the program is still in position to compete for a BCS bowl bid, and the final hurdle this fall might be the program it has begun to mirror in so many ways recently.

[+] EnlargeStepfan Taylor
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesNotre Dame and Stanford both pointed to last season's meeting -- an overtime Irish victory -- as key in their respective runs to BCS bowls.
As for Stanford? Well, for a Cardinal program consistently popping up in preseason top-five conversations, and with its conference title-game fate already decided before this contest, Notre Dame might be the biggest thing standing between Stanford and another trip to Pasadena, Calif. -- this time with stakes much higher than last season.

Kevin Gemmell: No doubt, that game has plenty of intrigue, but I'm really eyeing the Arizona State game. And had I gone first in this Take 2, I still would go with Arizona State.

First, nationally televised games on neutral fields smack-dab in the middle of the season should naturally perk the ears up. Second, these two teams have stirred the pot in recent weeks, with the Sun Devils staring down the Irish to keep that 2014 game in Tempe, Ariz. Third, I think it's going to be an outstanding football game.

This is a big push season for the Sun Devils -- who feel like they have the personnel and depth to make a run at not just the South Division, but maybe the Rose Bowl. Their quarterback is efficient, their running back tandem is explosive and their defensive front seven might be as good as any in the Pac-12.

And I think the Sun Devils will be able to put up some points. Marion Grice and D.J. Foster form as dynamic a running back combination in the country, combining for 25 touchdowns last season on the ground and through the air. Taylor Kelly should be an even better quarterback this season after posting a 67.1 completion percentage in his first season as a starter, with 29 touchdowns to nine interceptions. And Chris Coyle is one of the top tight ends on the West Coast. If the junior college transfers ASU is expecting in the fall pan out at wide receiver, the Sun Devils will have one of the most diverse offenses in the league.

I'm also really excited to see how Will Sutton, Carl Bradford and the rest of the front seven do against Notre Dame's traditionally beastly offensive fronts -- headlined by left tackle Zack Martin. Last season, only five FBS players had 80-plus tackles, 20-plus tackles for a loss and 10-plus sacks. Three of them are gone. The remaining two are in the Pac-12. Bradford is one of them. And in case anyone forgot, Sutton, an All-American, had 13 sacks and 23.5 tackles for loss.

As Matt notes, this game comes at the tail end of what could be a character- and season-defining four-game stretch for the Sun Devils. Just two weeks earlier, that ASU defensive front will have faced one of the best offensive lines in the country in Stanford. However that game turns out, there's probably going to be a lot of self-scouting and lessons learned. The Sun Devils will know what they are made of before they set foot in Texas. And, a propos of noting, I also find it ironic that Notre Dame will be scouting ASU from consecutive weeks of Stanford and USC film.

Just as the Stanford game was a turning point for both teams last season, the Arizona State game could have a similar impact in 2013.

Top recruit Redfield chooses Notre Dame

January, 4, 2013
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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Notre Dame’s push continues for the No. 1 spot in the ESPN recruiting class rankings.

The Irish added a pledge tonight during the Under Armour All-America Game from Max Redfield of Mission Viejo, Calif., the nation’s No. 4 athlete and No. 36 prospect in the ESPN 150. Redfield again spurned Notre Dame rival USC, from which he decommitted in November, though he continued to consider the Trojans.

Notre Dame appeared in the lead for Redfield after he bolted from the Trojans. He spoke glowingly of the Irish after an October official visit to South Bend, Ind., to watch the Irish defeat Stanford in overtime.

His commitment is the 23rd for Notre Dame, which counts 10 members of the ESPN 150 in its Class of 2013. Redfield, the No. 3 prospect in California, ranks behind linebacker Jaylon Smith of Fort Wayne, Ind., and running back Greg Bryant of Delray Beach, Fla., on the Notre Dame list.

The Irish, after a 12-0 regular season that landed them in the BCS title game against Alabama at 8 p.m. ET Monday on ESPN, have gained momentum in recruiting. Bryant, No. 2 nationally at running back and 27th overall in the ESPN 150, joined the class in December. Tarean Folston, the nation’s No. 9 athlete from Cocoa, Fla., committed this week during practice sessions for the UA Game to vault Notre Dame to No. 2 in the class rankings, behind Alabama.

The 6-foot-2, 181-pound Redfield, who started in Friday's UA game and is projected to play safety in college, also had visited Washington and recently considered Ohio State.

The recruiting score is extra sweet for Notre Dame as it continues to watch the Trojans suffer. Redfield made an official visit to USC, which finished 7-6 this season with three straight losses -- including a 22-13 defeat in Los Angeles to Notre Dame on Nov. 24. He also gave his final home visit to USC coaches about three weeks ago, but it wasn’t enough to swing him back.

The Trojans have also endured the losses of WR commits Sebastian LaRue and Eldridge Massington and defensive tackle Eddie Vanderdoes, sending USC from the top spot to No. 5 in the class rankings.

Meanwile, Notre Dame pushes forward. A win Monday over Alabama would only further aid the Irish’s quest to surpass the Crimson Tide.

Wojciechowski: Irish stave off BCS chaos

November, 25, 2012
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LOS ANGELES -- You could hear the weeping from one end of the country to the next. From Gainesville, Fla., all the way to Eugene, Ore.

If you're a one-loss team not named Alabama or Georgia, your BCS national championship balloon was punctured for good Saturday evening at the Coliseum. Holding the working end of a knitting needle: Notre Dame.

The Fighting Irish squeezed past USC, 22-13, to put a very green bow on a season that began with modest expectations (by us, not them) and ended with an undefeated record and a No. 1 ranking. Best of all, Notre Dame is going to play in a national title game for the first since ... ?

"Yeah, I think it was 1987 or '88?" said running back Theo Riddick, who cradled a game ball in his left arm.

It was 1988, three years before Riddick was even born.

"I wasn't even thought of," said Riddick, laughing.

Neither was Notre Dame back in August. The Irish were such football afterthoughts that they weren't even ranked in the Associated Press preseason top 25. The coaches had them at only No. 24, probably just to be polite.

"Are you sure about that?" said Riddick. "Really?"

Yes, really. In fact, there's a certain sweet symmetry to how things worked out: The unranked team at season's beginning beats a USC team ranked No. 1 in that same AP preseason poll.

So the Irish are in. They're in because they're the only 12-0 team not serving time in the NCAA big house. Ohio State also finished the regular season with a dozen wins and zero losses, but that, and an autograph from Brutus, gets you nothing.

For Gene Wojciechowski's full column, click here.

Irish overcome odds, restore glory

November, 25, 2012
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LOS ANGELES -- Brian Kelly emerged from the Coliseum field flanked by security guards left and right, looking nearly disheveled. He held his white Notre Dame baseball cap up toward the sky in a brief moment of bravado, his ensuing toss falling a good 10 feet short of the fans.

The coach of the nation's No. 1 team was already near his locker room by the time the cap landed, his star player rushing to catch up to him. Kelly and Manti Te'o embraced, the 51-year-old bear-hugging the linebacker, looking more excited than any of his players were after they had just pulled off the unthinkable.

"I can't remember what I said," Kelly recalled of the moment. "But what we've been saying all along is that we're in this together. It's really been about both of us, player and coach, driving this thing. And I think we were probably sharing that embrace, that we got it one step closer."

From South Bend, Ind., to Southern California, the Fighting Irish now will march on to South Beach, one step closer to holding up that prized crystal football. They will do it after winning Saturday night at rival USC, 22-13, to clinch a spot in the BCS National Championship Game, which will be played Jan. 7 in Miami Gardens, Fla.

They will go there under a third-year coach, the standard for all legendary Notre Dame leaders, four of whom won national titles with the Irish in Year 3 and have statues on campus to show for it.

They will go there under the nation's best defensive player, who has emerged as an icon amid personal tragedy, who might or might not have some hardware already in hand after another interception Saturday, his seventh of the season.

"If a guy like Manti Te'o's not going to win the Heisman, they should just make it an offensive award," Kelly said afterward. "Give it to the offensive player every year, and let's just cut to the chase. He is the backbone of a 12-0 football team that has proven itself each and every week, and showed it tonight again with another key interception and a great play in the end zone on Marqise Lee to save another touchdown.

"If the Heisman Trophy is what it is, I just don't know how Manti Te'o is left out of that conversation."

With the Irish up 19-10 early in the fourth quarter, Te'o hit Lee, USC's Heisman candidate, in the back of the end zone on a third-and-goal play, forcing the ball to the ground and forcing the Trojans to settle for a field goal.

Te'o and the Notre Dame defense returned to that area of the field on USC's next drive, after a 43-yard Lee kick return and a 53-yard Lee reception. Backs against the wall, a 22-13 lead and a little more than five minutes from a perfect regular season, the Irish lined up, prepared to stop a first-and-goal play from the 2.

Eight plays and three minutes later, the visitors sideline was coming apart at the seams, Notre Dame's fate all but sealed. The Irish had kept USC's lethal attack out of the end zone, again. They had made a remarkable goal-line stand, again.

Six weeks earlier, against Stanford, Notre Dame had kept the Cardinal out of the end zone on four consecutive overtime plays from inside the 5. That was the moment everything came to fruition for athletic director Jack Swarbrick, who confessed Saturday night that this season's title run had come a year earlier than expected.

"Coming into the year, I thought Stanford was the test," Swarbrick said. "I just think in the past two years they were more physical than we were, bigger and tougher than we were. I thought, 'That's going to be our benchmark.' And when we survived that, especially the way we did, I thought this team had a chance."

Swarbrick came to Notre Dame as a student in 1973, just in time for Ara Parseghian's second national title. He graduated in the spring of 1977, just missing Dan Devine's first.

He came back to his alma mater four years ago, before a season that ended in this same building, the reporters that time surrounding him for comment about the status of former coach Charlie Weis after another blowout loss here.

"It's what gets you up in the morning," Swarbrick said of restoring the Notre Dame lore.

He helped do that by hiring Kelly, who now has a 12-0 team for the second time in four years. His previous one, at Cincinnati, did not get to play for the national title. This one, after entering the season unranked, after enduring questions from quarterback play to recruiting methods to injury concerns, will.

"We believed in each other," Te'o said of the journey, which took a detour last season after a loss to USC, leading to Kelly comments that threatened to fracture the locker room. "Our coaches believed in us, and we believed in our coaches. It showed the type of camaraderie we have on our team. It's the camaraderie on our team that has helped us be successful."

Upon reaching the visitors locker room after Saturday's win, Kelly greeted a group of players who were, in his words, singing and dancing and laughing. He said a few words to them before presenting the game ball to Theo Riddick, who had carved up the Trojans for 146 rushing yards.

Then Te'o, the leader who spurned USC four years ago for Notre Dame, who spurned the NFL last season for this moment, stood up unexpectedly. He said a few words himself, these ones about his coach, and then he presented Kelly with a game ball of his own. Teammates called it a speechless moment.

Notre Dame is back on college football's grandest stage. Not much else is left to be said.

What we learned about Notre Dame at USC

November, 25, 2012
11/25/12
10:00
AM CT
Notre Dame is 12-0 after a 22-13 win at USC. Here's what to make of it all.

1. Notre Dame is going to the title game. Seriously, who honestly thought that would happen this year? Athletic director Jack Swarbrick himself had said he thought that next year would be the year. I thought I was aiming high for the Irish this past summer when I picked an 8-4 record. Instead, this team has overcome quarterback issues, three season-ending secondary injuries and a ridiculous schedule to run the table and clinch a spot in the Jan. 7 national title game. Unreal.

2. Everett Golson continues to grow. Remember the Michigan game? Me, neither. The redshirt freshman is night and day from where he was earlier this season, and his solid performance Saturday night was something you'd expect out of a grizzled upperclassmen. Not Golson, who, we keep forgetting, has 40 potential starts left in a Notre Dame uniform.

3. Bend but don't break? Hardly. Notre Dame answered the bell again Saturday night when backed up to its goal line after two big Marqise Lee plays. Eight plays later, the Irish had withstood USC's challenge, keeping the Trojans out of the end zone and marching on to the national title game.

4. For now, wait and watch Saturday. The winner of Saturday's SEC title game between Alabama and Georgia is likely the Irish's opponent in the national title game. Yes, Notre Dame will be tasked with stopping the SEC's reign of six straight national titles. Some in America probably aren't OK with that, but they will surely be watching.

Notre Dame helmet stickers

November, 25, 2012
11/25/12
9:00
AM CT
Notre Dame is title-game bound. Here's who helped the Irish get over one last regular-season hump Saturday night in its 22-13 win at USC.

Everett Golson, QB: Former Notre Dame scribe Douglas Farmer made a pretty good point on Twitter after the game: Three more years of Golson/Max Wittek matchups could be a win for everyone. Tough to replicate what Golson did on Saturday's stage, completing 15 of 26 passes for 217 yards, rushing for 47 yards and avoiding any big mistakes. He played in character, setting the tone for the rest of the team in the win.

Theo Riddick, RB: The recipient of the game ball was tough to bring down all night, carrying it 20 times for 146 yards and a touchdown, while adding three catches for 33 yards.

Manti Te'o, LB: One more interception for Te'o, his seventh of the season, this one, at the very least, punching his ticket to New York.

Kapron Lewis-Moore, DE: Another defensive captain, this one saving his best for last. The fifth-year senior had five tackles, two tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, one forced fumble and was instrumental in another big goal-line stand late for the Irish.

Instant Analysis: Irish 22, USC 13

November, 24, 2012
11/24/12
10:28
PM CT

LOS ANGELES -- Notre Dame is going to the national title game. The Irish took care of business Saturday night at USC, 22-13, and they can book their tickets to South Florida, where they will likely play the winner of next week's SEC title game. USC, meanwhile, ended its disappointing regular season with loss No. 5.

Here's how the action inside the Coliseum went down.

It was over when: USC ran eight plays inside the 10-yard line, including penalties, and Notre Dame stopped the Trojans -- getting the ball back with 2:33 left and a nine-point lead. Typical Irish defense.

Game ball goes to: Theo Riddick carried the Irish every step of the way, rushing for 146 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries.

Stat of the game: Notre Dame averaged 5.3 yards per carry, marching up and down the field successfully before several red zone gaffes.

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