Dr. Lou's Picks

November, 28, 2014
Nov 28
6:00
PM PT


video

Lou Holtz makes his predictions for Florida vs. Florida State, Auburn vs. Alabama, Mississippi State vs. Ole Miss and Notre Dame vs. USC.
Saturday's game against Notre Dame will be the final Coliseum appearance for the USC seniors. On that list is one of the most productive linebackers in school history.

In the 100 days leading up to signing day 2015, RecruitingNation will be looking back at our ESPN recruiting rankings from 2006 to the present and counting down the best player of the past 10 years at each ranking position, No. 100 to No. 1.

Michael Morgan, No. 70 in 2006 class

Morgan came out of talent rich Skyline High in Dallas, Texas as one of the nation's most heavily sought linebacker prospects. Some figured he could end up at UCLA where his brother Steve Morgan played, but Morgan’s recruitment came down to USC, Florida State and Texas A&M, with the Trojans winning out in large part because of the strong relationship developed between Morgan and then USC linebackers coach Ken Norton, who currently coaches Morgan with the Seattle Seahawks.

Morgan’s career at USC was one built on patience and physical development. After redshirting as a freshman in 2006, Morgan was a reserve linebacker and special teams player for the Trojans in 2007, appearing in 12 games with nine tackles.

Morgan was again a backup outside linebacker in 2008, playing 12 games with one start vs. Oregon. He tallied 22 tackles and five tackles-for-loss in what were the first true glimpses of the player he would become.

The 2009 season was Morgan’s first as a full-time starter. In nine starts and 13 games played, Morgan posted 50 tackles, 13 tackles-for-loss and four sacks.

Morgan capped his career in Los Angeles in 2010 playing in 13 games, recording 57 tackles and three tackles-for-loss as a near 220-pounder after leaving Skyline High just shy of 190-pounds.

Morgan went undrafted in the 2011 NFL draft. He signed a free agent contract with the Seattle Seahawks, where he is in his fourth season playing for Pete Carroll, the same coach that recruited him to USC.

Honorable mention: Jalen Hurd, No. 70 in class of 2014. Hurd battled shoulder injuries in high school, but managed to set the single-season record in the state of Tennessee as a junior before missing his entire senior season following shoulder surgery. He picked Tennessee over Florida and Ohio State in a recruitment that was never close after the hiring of Butch Jones in Knoxville. Hurd has been an impact player for the Vols in 2014 with more than 700 yards rushing, as well as over 900 all-purpose yards. He posted 100 yards or more rushing in wins against Georgia, South Carolina and Kentucky.

Pac-12 viewer's guide: Week 14

November, 28, 2014
Nov 28
10:00
AM PT
The regular season's grand finale is upon us. Here's a look through Black Friday and Closing Saturday in the Pac-12:

Friday, Nov. 28

12:30 p.m.

Stanford at UCLA, ABC: The Cardinal are the two-time defending Pac-12 champions, but they're now in a position to play spoiler to UCLA's title bid. A win locks up the South for the No. 8 Bruins and keeps them in contention for the four-team College Football Playoff. Stanford will be without offensive star Ty Montgomery (shoulder), so UCLA figures to have a good chance to beat the Cardinal for the first time since 2008.

[+] EnlargeNick Wilson
AP Photo/Steve DykesIn Arizona's last three games, RB Nick Wilson has rushed for more than 100 yards in each contest.
ASU at Arizona, Fox: If UCLA slips, the Sun Devils and Wildcats are both ready to pounce on the opportunity to win the Pac-12 South in this Territorial Cup. Let's rephrase that: If UCLA slips, this can turn into the biggest Territorial Cup ever. A division championship and a Levi's Stadium date with Oregon would be on the line. Key matchup here: Arizona freshman running back Nick Wilson against ASU's volatile run defense.

Saturday, Nov. 29

10 a.m.

Utah at Colorado, Pac-12 Network: The Utes are slipping badly and the Buffs are 0-8 in Pac-12 play. There's certainly hope in Boulder after Arizona drubbed Utah 42-10 in Salt Lake City last week. Kyle Whittingham's club is staggering, and Colorado's Mike MacIntyre -- who strongly feels his program is making progress -- would love nothing more than an uplifting win entering a critical offseason.

12:30 p.m.

Notre Dame at USC, Fox: This is another contest pitting two clubs coming off losses. The 2014 season has taken a turn for the worse on both Figueroa St. and in South Bend, but one of college football's most storied rivalries is an intriguing watch regardless. The Irish will be playing this game without Sheldon Day and Jarron Jones, their two best defensive linemen. They've given up 30-plus points in six straight games for the first time in their 126-year history. Yes, that's Javorius Allen licking his chops.

1:30 p.m.

BYU at Cal, Pac-12 Network: The Bears have one more crack at securing the bowl eligibility that will earn them vital December practice time. The opponent is BYU. The Cougars have won three straight games in their effort to salvage what once looked like a season of complete misery following Taysom Hill's injury. But those wins came against shaky competition: Jared Goff's unit should move the ball against a BYU defense that surrendered 55 points to Boise State.

5 p.m.

Oregon at Oregon State, ABC: There's plenty on the line in the Civil War: While the Ducks battle for a College Football Playoff spot and a Marcus Mariota Heisman trophy, the Beavers will scrap for bowl eligibility in Sean Mannion's final season. Remember the upset havoc that Reser Stadium can wreak. Oregon is certainly the better team, but nothing is guaranteed heading into Corvallis.

7:30 p.m.

Washington at Washington State, ESPN: The Cougars played well as they built up a 24-21 lead at ASU last week, but turnovers helped knock the wheels off in the second half. Still, Mike Leach's club smells opportunity here: This Apple Cup is in Pullman, and Washington is a weaker opponent than the Sun Devils. The Huskies' Cyler Miles played efficient football last week; Chris Petersen will ask for more of the same out of his quarterback so that Wazzu's Luke Falk (601 passing yards vs. ASU) stays on the sideline. Falk did turn the ball over last week, though, and the Huskies are known to generate takeaways from time to time (24 this season).
The Trojans came out in shorts, shoulder pads and helmets on Wednesday for another day of prep work for this Saturday's rivalry clash with Notre Dame. Defensive lineman Leonard Williams set the tone early for what would turn out to be an extremely physical practice session, picking up running back James Toland IV on a play during an early 11-on-11 period and body-slamming him to the ground.

"We've been competing all week, and Coach has been telling us to go hard on defense," Williams said. "When the rest of the defensive players see you go hard, everybody else reacts off of it."

USC head coach Steve Sarkisian is hoping that the brand of play that the Trojans have put on display over the last two days carries over to their game in the Coliseum this weekend.

"Our guys were really physical in yesterday's practice, and came back and did it again today, and that's what it's going to take Saturday," Sarkisian said. "It's going to take a really physical performance. Notre Dame is a very physical football team, and as we have navigated through the season we're obviously still trying to find aspects of our game to improve upon, and I think that is one aspect that we can, and I would like to think that by making it a real point of emphasis, we'll reap the benefits of it Saturday."

More on Williams

Much has been made of the fact that the Trojans' upcoming matchup with Notre Dame marks the last game at the Coliseum for a number of seniors on the team, but it might also represent the last home game for a number of draft-eligible underclassmen, most notably Williams. The talented defensive lineman is projected by some to be taken with the No. 1 pick in the 2015 NFL Draft -- if he so chooses to leave early.

On Wednesday, Williams admitted that he has thought about the possibility of heading to the NFL after this season, but he also said that no decision will be made until after USC's bowl game. He did note, however, that the fact that he has yet to defeat crosstown rival UCLA does not sit well with him.

"I might come back just to beat them," Williams said.

When asked about his star defensive performer following practice, Sarkisian said that it's Williams' work ethic that really sets him apart from most other players.

"He only knows one way to play the game," Sarkisian said. "I think in this day and age of guys reading their names in every potential mock draft and where they're supposed to go, we see so many guys maybe not go as hard all the time, maybe take themselves out and what not. Leonard Williams has not done that once this year, and he has not been 100 percent healthy, but he comes out and he works his tail off, and we're thankful for that."

Injury update
  • After sitting out practice on Tuesday, freshman tight end Bryce Dixon (concussion-like symptoms) suited up and participated in a portion of Wednesday's workout. "He is not fully cleared, but he was able to do more today," Sarkisian said. "There's a process when you have concussion symptoms, and so far he's on pace to be ready to play."
  • Leon McQuay III continued to wear a yellow non-contact jersey, but appeared to participate in the entire practice session.
News and notes
  • For the second consecutive day freshman offensive lineman Damien Mama ran with the No. 1 offense at left guard, while Khaliel Rodgers -- who has started the past three games at the position -- went with the No. 2 group.
  • Placekicker Andre Heidari had a very good day, connecting on all six of his field goal attempts.
  • Senior linebacker Hayes Pullard wore the jersey of his high school, Los Angeles (Calif.) Crenshaw, during practice.
  • Offensive lineman Chad Wheeler, who is out for the rest of the season with a torn ACL, watched practice from the sideline.
  • Sarkisian said that the team will have some Thanksgiving homework on Wednesday night.
  • "We're all going to write down what we're thankful for," Sarkisian said. "We'll go through it in the team meeting tomorrow, because we need to recognize in life the things that we're thankful for, and we should be gracious that we have, and humble that we have."
Thanksgiving is a special night. Jimmy Walker used to say dy-no-mite, that's right.

To the notes!

John in San Jose writes: How could all of you supposed experts or idiots pick Utah over the Cats? Don't you watch the games? Not one of you gave the Cats a chance in Utah and they blew them out.

Kevin Gemmell: First off, quit trying to sweet talk us, you silver-tongued charmer you. That won't get you anywhere.

[+] EnlargeBrian Blechen, Nick Wilson
AP Photo/Rick BowmerPerhaps we were guilty of overthinking -- or overwatching -- with our unanimous forecast of a Utah win over Arizona.
I can't speak for the rest of the blog, but I have to admit, I was a little surprised that all five of us picked Utah. I went back on forth on that one.

I always love the "don't you watch the games?" criticism. Because, actually, that's all we do. And I usually watch them multiple times (thank you Pac-12 Networks' Football in 60). And in this case, it's BECAUSE I watch the games that I leaned toward Utah.

When making picks, all we can work with is the information we already have. If I had a copy of Grays Sports Almanac, things would be different. Biff Tannen and I would be sucking down cocktails on a yacht somewhere.

Considering Arizona and Utah had played in six games this season that had come down to a touchdown or less, that led me to believe it would be a close game. And in close games, especially with a warm-weather team going to a cold-weather climate, I thought my rationale was sound.

Obviously, it wasn't, because the Utes got rolled. Perhaps I was overthinking it? I'm sure there were plenty of people in the world who picked Arizona to win. But I'm pretty sure few actually saw a blowout.

My record in Arizona games is 8-3 this year. I whiffed on the Oregon game, I picked them to beat USC and they let me down (where were the "thanks for the support, Kev" mailbag letters then, huh?) and I whiffed on Utah. The only time I picked against them and won was UCLA.

As you can see this morning, I picked them in Territorial Cup. If they lose, I want my "thanks for the support, Kev" mailbag letter from you, John.




ST in Boston writes: Should Oregon have that perfect season by finishing with both a Heisman and CFP trophy, which has historically done more for recruiting (the top single player award or the top team award)? And stats on that?

Kevin Gemmell: I'm not sure if that is quantifiable. And if there is a study out there about it, I haven't seen it. So this is just an educated guess.

I would say that the opportunity to win a national championship would be the larger draw for recruits on several levels. If you play for a team that's in the national title discussion, it's already a high-profile program.

High-profile programs offer bells and whistles such as upgraded facilities (most of which have awesome locker rooms, weight rooms, practice facilities, player lounges and barber shops), uniform diversity and national TV exposure. It almost feels like playing for a title contender is an afterthought to some of the perks of going to an upper-tier program.

Just because you go to Ohio State or Notre Dame or USC or Oklahoma, doesn't mean you're going to win a Heisman. Heck, Army has more Heisman trophy winners than Texas.

I recently visited Utah and got a tour of the new facilities. The message was that recruiting happens the second you walk in the door. Even when a recruit is waiting alone in the lobby (which is awesome), he is being recruited by his surroundings.

So based on what I've seen, the prospect of a national championship would likely be the bigger draw. Just my take.




Andrew in La Crescenta, Calif. writes: Personally, I believe if UCLA beats Stanford this Friday they would be guaranteed a New Year's Bowl game regardless of the outcome of the Pac-12 Championship game. Oregon would be ranked so high that I can't see the Bruins dropping more than a couple spots if they lose. Any thoughts on this?

Kevin Gemmell: I like the wishful thinking. But there are a few things to consider. Let's suppose that UCLA wins the South and loses to Oregon in the Pac-12 championship game. What then?

You have a three-loss team that would have fallen out of the top 10. Style points, I believe, will matter. If the Ducks come out and win 42-10, I think the selection committee would be hard-pressed to pick the Bruins for New Year's Day game. If they lose in overtime by a field goal? That might be a different story.

And say it's a 35-24 game -- not a blowout, but not exactly a nail biter. Is there a chance the committee names the winner of the Territorial Cup -- which only has two losses -- to one of those secondary games? If the Wildcats smoke the Sun Devils, or vice versa, they'd be 10-2 and likely in the top 10.

This is all uncharted territory, so the word "guarantee" shouldn't be thrown around loosely. And let's not forget that UCLA ... or Arizona ... or ASU could end up beating Oregon. I don't want an Oregon championship to come off sounding like a forgone conclusion. Because it's not.

Is it possible that three Pac-12 teams play in those games? One playoff and two secondary? Maybe. Perhaps the Ducks play in the national semifinal after edging the Bruins, who play in a secondary game and the Territorial Cup winner at 10-2 also gets in. That might be overly wishful thinking. But I'm not ruling it out.
Notre Dame/USCGetty ImagesNotre Dame's Brian Kelly and USC's Steve Sarkisian will each try to get something out of the regular-season finale to cap regular seasons that have fizzled.

LOS ANGELES – Multi-millionaire college football coaches Steve Sarkisian and Brian Kelly are paid the big bucks to produce the big results.

As the 2014 regular season comes to a close for two storied programs, the football teams of Sarkisian and Kelly are laboring.


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Pac-12 by the numbers: Week 14

November, 26, 2014
Nov 26
7:30
PM PT
Here is another random accounting of stats related to the Pac-12.

Stanford at UCLA
  • Stanford is minus-6 in turnover margin in Pac-12 games, but is just minus-4 in points off turnover margin.
  • UCLA running back Paul Perkins leads the Pac-12 with 1,262 yards rushing, which is the second-most for a UCLA running back over the last 10 years.
  • Stanford is one of 20 teams in the country to allow 11 or fewer touchdown passes this season.
  • Only nine teams in the country have allowed more first downs due to penalty than UCLA (26).
  • In conference games, UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley has rushed for 492 yards, which is the most in the Pac-12 and fifth-most among Power 5 quarterbacks.
Arizona State at Arizona
  • Arizona has scored 87 points off turnovers in conference games, the most in the Pac-12.
  • Over the last three seasons, ASU quarterback Taylor Kelly ranks fifth in the country with 75 touchdown passes.
  • Points per drive: Arizona 2.39; Arizona State 2.45.
  • Arizona linebacker Scooby Wright III is the only player in the country with at least 13 sacks and four forced fumbles.
  • Arizona State's penalty margin (minus-26) is tied for the fifth-best mark in the country.
Notre Dame at USC
  • USC has forced five turnovers in the red zone, the second-most among Power 5 teams.
  • USC leads the Pac-12 with 81 third-down conversions.
  • USC's red zone touchdown percentage (72.7) ranks third among Power 5 teams.
Oregon at Oregon State
  • Oregon has scored 40-plus points in six straight games and gained more than 500 yards of offense in its last five, both are the longest active streaks in the country.
  • Since being sacked 15 times in his first five games, Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota has been sacked just 10 times over the last six games.
  • With 1,050 rushing yards, Oregon running back Royce Freeman is the first true freshman in school history to crack the 1,000-yard mark.
  • Oregon State has averaged 30.3 points in the Civil War since 2004.
  • Oregon State's third-down conversion percentage is 30.9, which is the worst in the Pac-12, while Oregon has the best (52.4).
Washington at Washington State
  • WSU ranks last in the Pac-12 with a minus-12 in turnover margin in conference games.
  • WSU receiver Vince Mayle's 1,159 receiving yards in conference play is the third-most over the last 10 years.
  • Washington's John Ross ranks second in the nation with 760 kickoff-return yards.
  • Washington leads the nation with seven defensive touchdowns.
  • Washington outside linebacke Hau'oli Kikaha leads the nation in sacks (17.5) and tackles for loss (23.5)
Utah at Colorado
  • Utah kicker Andy Phillips has eight field goals of 40-plus yards in conference games, which is twice as many as any other kicker in the conference.
  • Utah punter Tom Hackett leads the nation in punts downed inside the 20 (34) and 10 (19).
  • Utah's Kaelin Clay leads the nation with four kicks returned for touchdowns.
  • Colorado has allowed 20 sacks this season, which is the fewest in the Pac-12.
  • Colorado's Nelson Spruce is tied for the national lead with 101 catches.
BYU at Cal
  • Quarterback Jared Goff finished the Pac-12 season with 3,070 yards. He's just the fourth player since 2004 to eclipse the 3,000-yard mark in conference games.
  • Cal has never played in a bowl after starting the season 5-6.
  • Cal running back Daniel Lasco needs 15 yards rushing against BYU to become the sixth Pac-12 player to rush for 1,000 yards this season.

Past weeks
Week 2
Week 3
Week 4
Week 5
Week 6
Week 7
Week 8
Week 9
Week 10
Week 11
Week 12

#4Pac: What I'm thankful for in the Pac-12

November, 26, 2014
Nov 26
6:00
PM PT
Jaelen StrongRic Tapia/Icon SportswireArizona State receiver Jaelen Strong catches a Hail Mary to beat USC on Oct. 4.

Your humble #4Pac welcomes you to another installment of what will be a regular feature on the Pac-12 blog. Here's how it works: We take one question or one topic, or maybe it's some other really cool format that we haven't even thought of yet, and all contribute our thoughts.

Have a suggestion for something we should address in a future #4Pac roundtable? Go ahead and send it to our mailbag.

Today, in the spirit of Thanksgiving, we're asking what each Pac-12 reporter is most thankful for from this Pac-12 season.

David Lombardi/@LombardiESPN:

I'm most thankful for never knowing what's going to happen next. College football is notoriously unpredictable, but the 2014 Pac-12 has taken this volatility to the next level, before proceeding to pour gasoline all over it. Every Saturday, Larry Scott lights the match.

First came the Hail Mary epidemic. I'm pretty sure that Pac-12 football viewers will never look at that prayer of a play in the same way again. Furious comebacks, iced kickers, confused officials, epic quarterback performances, mind-numbingly painful turnovers followed by 100-yard fumble returns, and just a whole bunch of general nonsense came next. This season, Pac-12 road teams are a combined 29-20 in conference games. That puts at least some kind of statistical value on the eccentricity that we're dealing with here. With a crazy closing weekend and a title game still ahead, the unpredictability isn't over yet. That's a rush, and I'm thankful for that.

Chantel Jennings/@ChantelJennings:

Ted and I answered this question in the #6pac last week and I think I'll stick to my original answer. I'm so thankful for back-up quarterbacks. Can you imagine how different this season would be if the conference didn't have this kind of depth at quarterback? What if UCLA hadn't had Jerry Neuheisel to turn to when Brett Hundley went down at Texas? What if Mike Bercovici hadn't been the Sun Devils' star in late September and early October? How fun has it been to watch Luke Falk emerge at Washington State, and how much excitement has his presence brought to that fan base after losing Connor Halliday in such a disappointing manner?

At this point, would it be so crazy to imagine that whomever steps in for Anu Solomon on Saturday could lead the Wildcats to victory? Coming into this season we lauded the Pac-12 for being the conference of quarterbacks. Now, with one week left in the regular season, I don't think any college football fan across the country can deny this league's depth.

Kevin Gemmell/@Kevin_Gemmell:

I'm most thankful to be covering the most exciting conference in college football. It's chaotic, it's mind-bending and it makes about as much sense as Thanksgiving in July. But it's hard not to love it.

From the Hail Mary's, to the last-second field goals, to the missed field goals, the Pac-12 has provided amazing theatre in 2014.

The road teams (29-20) will finish with a better record in conference games this season. The Pac-12 leads all conferences in scoring, but expect the postseason All-American teams to be littered with defensive players from the West Coast.

Very little about this league makes sense. Heading into last week's matchups, there had been 34 games involving Pac-12 teams that were decided by a touchdown or less. Last week? Zero. And that included Arizona vs. Utah, two teams that had played in more tight games than all but one team in the country.

This league never lacks in the surprise department. And as a writer trying to make sense of it all, I'm thankful that sometimes I can't. Rather, I just sit back and savor the chaos.

Kyle Bonagura/@BonaguraESPN:

From a neutral perspective, it's hard to ask for a better season than the Pac-12 has provided this season. So looking through a football lens, I'm thankful the boring moments have been significantly outweighed by the exciting ones. Seasons like this don't come around very often.

In 49 conference games, 22 have been decided by one score, five went to overtime and two were decided on Hail Mary's. Oregon's Marcus Mariota is on his way to becoming the conference's first Heisman winner since Reggie Bush in 2005, Washington State's Connor Halliday broke the FBS single-game passing record and the Pac-12 South delivered a five-team race for the division title. Even the teams on the bottom half of the standings have stayed relevant late into the year.

To this point, there's not much within reason that could have added to the overall intrigue. Here's to a happy, healthy Thanksgiving to everyone in Pac-12 land any beyond.

Hopefully the final stretch matches what has been building since August.

Take 2: Notre Dame vs. USC

November, 26, 2014
Nov 26
3:00
PM PT
Notre Dame and USC look to salvage disappointing seasons Saturday at the Coliseum. Both teams have four losses apiece. Both also have young teams that return plenty of talent for 2015.

So which team is closer to a national title? Matt Fortuna and Kyle Bonagura debate.

Fortuna: One needs to just look at Notre Dame's starting 22 from this past Saturday to see what the near-term future could possibly hold for this program: Seventeen of those players have eligibility remaining for next season. That does not include Sheldon Day and Joe Schmidt, two of the Irish's top front-seven players, who were sidelined with injuries. That also does not include end Ishaq Williams or corner KeiVarae Russell, both of whom might return next season after serving academic suspensions this fall.

[+] EnlargeSteve Sarkisian
Harry How/Getty ImagesGoing into his first Notre Dame game as USC's head coach, Steve Sarkisian is trying to get what has been an elusive eighth win.
Of course, Notre Dame's 7-4 record suggests that there is plenty to improve upon, and things are far from rosy right now in South Bend. Still, they are a competent holder away from likely being 9-2. And when they are at full strength, they showed just how close they might really be to an elite team, taking defending national champion Florida State] to the wire in Tallahassee. Bumps were expected this year with a young defense and a new coordinator in Brian VanGorder, and injuries (and costly offensive turnovers) have only made the situation look more dire through this three-game losing streak.

Still, with so much coming back and with so many younger guys being forced into bigger roles now, much will be expected from the unit in 2015 — as will be the case with Everett Golson and the offense, which is bubbling with potential (and, at times, production) but at times cannot help but trip over itself and give the ball away.

Bonagura: It’s actually going to be pretty tough to differentiate between the teams because their stories this season and how they’re positioned for the future are so similar. The one major difference is that USC has been up against a stacked deck because of NCAA sanctions that have limited its scholarships.

The Trojans came into the season with just 65 recruited scholarship players (85 is the maximum) and have not had more than 57 of them available for any game this year. That lack of depth has required first-year coach Steve Sarkisian to give significant playing time to 11 true freshmen, eight of whom have combined for 45 starts. For comparison’s sake, 18 of USC’s 22 listed starters this week have eligibility remaining -- although receiver Nelson Agholor and defensive lineman Leonard Williams are widely expected to leave early for the NFL.

Despite all that, it took a Hail Mary (against Arizona State) and a touchdown pass with eight seconds left (against Utah) to prevent the Trojans from winning the Pac-12 South, which had five of its six teams ranked in the College Football Playoff rankings just last week. There’s no reason to believe this team won’t be a more dangerous threat to compete for the Pac-12 title next year, which would put it in the playoff and national championship mix.

Matt, Sarkisian said this week that the USC-Notre Dame game is arguably the biggest rivalry game in college football. I think that’s a stretch -- and seemed like strange timing, considering the Trojans just lost to UCLA -- but I’m interested how in it’s perceived on the other side. Notre Dame obviously has a lot of rivals, so where does this one stack up?

Fortuna: Well, we all know Michigan is not a Notre Dame rival, right? Just ask Irish fans, who are oh-so-happy to tell you that they no longer need the Wolverines … right after they shell out record-setting ticket prices to see them.

But Michigan became a casualty of the Irish's ACC scheduling agreement because of a clause in the series' contract. And both schools are probably better off for the time being, considering the national scheduling flexibility each now has, and considering the fact that each has no shortage of annual rivalries anyway.

The Wolverines have Ohio State and Michigan State. Notre Dame has Navy, Stanford and, of course, USC, the biggest of them all.

It is hard to think of a rivalry that can compare to this one when you consider all of its unique factors: Non-league, non-regional, brand names. And yet in many ways, these programs are so similar: Rich histories, constant recruiting battles, fake drowning nephews and fake dead girlfriends …

Still, no team gets Notre Dame fans riled up quite the way USC does. They are raised on disliking that team from L.A., more than anyone else. From the Bush Push to Lane Kiffin, there is plenty of hate. And likely an underlying respect: These programs have the most NFL draft picks. They have seven Heisman Trophy winners apiece. They each have 11 claimed national titles.

They are massively successful, and they are certainly in position to be that way again by the time they meet next year in South Bend, Indiana. But what about this year? What do you think is the biggest carrot the four-loss Trojans are playing for Saturday as they face a fellow four-loss rival?

Bonagura: This is one of those games that shouldn't require much motivation. Even if they played in an empty high school stadium, you get the sense that the game would matter a lot. That said, losses to UCLA and Notre Dame in back-to-back weeks wouldn't be the way to build momentum for the program -- recruiting, fan support, general development, etc. -- at the end of Sarkisian's first season. It's only one game, but 8-4 just has a different vibe than 7-5, and the last thing Sarkisian needs is another seven-win season.

There's also the added element of what the game means for the Notre Dame vs. Pac-12 series this season. The Irish got by Stanford on a late touchdown pass, but turned in a poor showing at Arizona State a couple weeks ago, leaving this to serve as a rubber match of sorts. Since 2004, Notre Dame is 18-13 against Pac-12 teams and has won five of the last seven.

WeAreSC chat, 2 p.m. PT

November, 26, 2014
Nov 26
10:42
AM PT
On Wednesday, WeAreSC reporter Garry Paskwietz will be chatting about USC Trojans football. Paskwietz is the publisher of WeAreSC and has been covering the Trojans since 1997. Send your questions now and join Paskwietz every Wednesday at 2 p.m. PT.
The match-up on Saturday between the Irish and the Trojans will mark the 50th anniversary of one of the great games in the series.

On Nov. 28, 1964 Notre Dame came swaggering into the Coliseum ranked No. 1 in the country with a 9-0 record under first-year coach Ara Parseghian. It had been a surprising turnaround for the Irish, who had been 2-7 in 1963 and had only posted two winning seasons in the previous eight years, and were on their fourth coach in that same span. Notre Dame featured quarterback John Huarte, who personified the rags-to-riches Irish by going from deep reserve to Heisman Trophy winner in one year. USC had a solid team with a 6-3 record and was still alive for a potential Rose Bowl berth. The Trojans were led by tailback Mike Garrett, who would win the Heisman the following year.

[+] EnlargeUSC's Rod Sherman
Courtesy of USCRod Sherman's touchdown in the final minutes against Notre Dame in 1964 gave the Trojans a 20-17 upset victory.
USC coach John McKay, who had won a national championship in 1962, was well aware of what kind of team the Irish were bringing to town.

"I studied the Notre Dame-Stanford film for six hours last night and I have reached one conclusion: Notre Dame can't be beaten," McKay told the media the week before the game. "I've decided that if we play our very best and make no mistakes whatsoever we will definitely make a first down."

The Irish jumped on top early and went into halftime with a comfortable 17-0 lead as Huarte completed 11 of 15 passes for 176 yards and a touchdown to wide receiver Jack Snow. In the second half, however, things started to change.

USC took the third-quarter kickoff and promptly scored on a Garrett run to make it 17-7, and then the momentum took a pair of cardinal and gold turns. After driving the length of the field, the Irish fumbled the ball away inside the USC 10-yard line. On their next possession, the Notre Dame running back dove into the end zone but the play was called back due to a holding call that Parseghian would later refer to as "the worst officiating call in the history of college football."

Notre Dame failed to score after the holding penalty and USC took advantage by driving 88-yards and scoring on a pass from quarterback Craig Fertig to tight end Fred Hill to bring the score to 17-13 with just over five minutes to play. The Trojans defense forced an Irish punt, and a long return from Garrett set USC up with field position on the Notre Dame side of the field for a dramatic finish.

Fertig hit Hill with a pass to put the Trojans in the Notre Dame red zone, and there was another controversial call on a Fertig throw to Hill in the end zone on second down, a play USC fans thought should have been ruled a touchdown. On a third down from the Irish 15, Fertig was hit, the ball came loose and was ruled an incomplete pass, which resulted in yet another disputed call from the Notre Dame side. The Trojans maintained possession but were faced with a fourth down and the game on the line.

What happened next is the stuff of Trojans lore. It began on the USC sideline, when receiver Rod Sherman approached head coach John McKay with a play suggestion, something that players just didn’t do with the imposing USC coach. But the Sherman idea of calling "84-Z-Delay" was quickly accepted by McKay, and Sherman ran onto the field to give the play to Fertig.

As the ball was snapped, Fertig rolled left, while Sherman took off from the left slot position, faked to the outside and then cut back to the middle against coverage from Notre Dame safety Tony Carey. As to what actually took place after the ball was thrown was the fodder of many humorous takes between Fertig and Sherman on the USC banquet circuit over the years. To hear Fertig tell it, the ball hit Sherman right between the 1 and the 2 on his jersey. Sherman, of course, remembers having to reach outstretched to make the grab. Regardless of which version you want to believe, the pass was completed for a touchdown and it caused a pandemonium amongst the 83,840 fans in attendance. USC 20, Notre Dame 17.

For the Trojans, the euphoria of the victory was tempered with the news later that night that the AAWU conference had voted to send co-champion Oregon State to the Rose Bowl instead of USC. It was a vote that caused USC athletic director Jess Hill to comment, "So far as I am concerned, this is one of the rankest injustices ever perpetrated in the field of intercollegiate athletics."

While USC lost a shot at the Rose Bowl, the Irish lost a shot at a national championship. Notre Dame finished the season 9-1 and ranked No. 3 in the country. The Trojans were ranked No. 10 with a 7-3 record and, most importantly, a victory over the Irish that still resonates with USC fans 50 years later.

Pac-12 Week 14 predictions

November, 26, 2014
Nov 26
10:30
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Why Arizona will win: This could go one of two ways. Either ASU’s blitz-happy scheme will create havoc in the backfield and the Wildcats offense won’t be able to get things going, or Arizona will be able to account for the pressure and hit some home runs. We’ve seen ASU get exploited when they over-pressure. This Arizona team has the running backs and receivers that could take advantage of that. -- Kevin Gemmell

Why Arizona State will win: The loss to Oregon State reminded the Sun Devils not to overestimate anyone. The start of the Washington State game reminded the Sun Devils that they need to play from the opening kick. When ASU does both of those things, it's very, very dangerous. We saw other receivers step up last week in Jaelen Strong's absence. He's expected to be back this week but the Sun Devils' performance against Wazzu will give OC Mike Norvell more confidence in his receiver corps. -- Chantel Jennings

Why Cal will win: BYU's recent run of success has been a product of significantly inferior opponents, and Cal not only is a big step up in competition for the Cougars, but it has bowl game to play for. -- Kyle Bonagura

Why BYU will win: While Cal is much improved and has bowl eligibility to play for, I suspect the Golden Bears are going to be physically and emotionally worn down after getting blown out at home by rival Stanford. I think BYU, always hungry for a win against the Pac-12, takes advantage. -- Ted Miller

Why Washington State will win: It has been a disappointing season filled with miserable moments for the Cougars -- see Conor Halliday's horrific injury. But this is their Super Bowl, and it’s at home. Washington State has a chance to purge a lot of 2014 pain by beating their rival. The stage sets up perfectly: Washington’s offense is not explosive, and this game will be played in the #Pac12AfterDark Pullman cold. Your move, Luke Falk. -- David Lombardi

Why Washington will win: For all of Washington’s offensive shortcomings, this is still a phenomenal defense that gets after the quarterback. If Falk can handle the pressure, he’s going to prove me wrong. But in this game, I like Washington to go crazy in the backfield. As for points, well, the Huskies will find them somewhere. -- Kevin Gemmell

Unanimous picks

UCLA will beat Stanford: Stanford has not proven that it can effectively move the ball against a solid defense, and last week’s whipping of USC indicated that UCLA is peaking at the right time on that side of the ball. Plus, the Cardinal won't have offensive MVP Ty Montgomery (shoulder), so it’s tough to see them outscoring the Bruins, even if their defense contains Brett Hundley. -- David Lombardi

Utah will beat Colorado: Utah's defense is too good to struggle two weeks in a row, especially against the lone winless team in conference play. -- Kyle Bonagura

USC will beat Notre Dame: Notre Dame has lost four of its past five and expect that streak to continue when the Fighting Irish visit the Coliseum. USC is going to respond after its 18-point loss to UCLA last weekend and Cody Kessler is going to continue his quiet campaign (30 TD, 4 INT). Look for Su'a Cravens and Hayes Pullard to come up big for the Trojans defense. -- Chantel Jennings

Oregon will beat Oregon State: What’s fascinating about this game is that both teams have a lot to play for. Obviously, in the national picture, the Ducks' motivation is more important. I expect a good fight from the Beavers, who are trying to become bowl eligible. But ultimately Oregon has too many weapons and an injury-depleted OSU squad simply can’t keep up. -- Kevin Gemmell

Notre Dame prediction: Game 12 at USC

November, 26, 2014
Nov 26
10:00
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One 7-4 rival faces another. Who ends the regular season on a positive note?

How Notre Dame can win: It has been said before and it will be said again: Everett Golson and the Irish offense have to protect the defense, now more than ever. That means being efficient, and not turning the ball over. It means building on the efforts the ground game made this past weekend, when Tarean Folston ran for 134 yards. And it means not messing up on special teams — the Irish actually had one of their best all-around special teams performances of the Brian Kelly era last Saturday before the final, fateful missed kick. Notre Dame won't survive a miscue like that one when facing USC's offense.

How USC can win: It is rare that a USC quarterback can fly under the radar, but that appears to be the case with Cody Kessler. He has been remarkable this season, throwing for 3,133 yards with 30 touchdowns and just four interceptions. He has tremendous weapons around him, and the Trojans would be wise to attack early and often against an Irish defense reaching even further down the depth chart this week, as it is without tackle Jarron Jones and safety Drue Tranquill (in addition to Sheldon Day for the game and Nyles Morgan for a half). That is all the more important for the Trojans given their youth on the offensive line.

Breakout player: Amir Carlisle. The man has been on both sides of this rivalry before. Expect a long kick return in his first game at the Coliseum wearing a white jersey.

Prediction: USC 35, Notre Dame 27. The Trojans' skill players prove to be too much in this one.
OK, so who's it gonna be -- Mississippi State or Ohio State?

Honestly, the suspense is killing me, and we haven't even gotten to the games this weekend. See, here's the issue that these teams are facing: Who will have the best résumé after championship Saturday?

Mississippi State might not go to Atlanta for the SEC championship game, but if the Bulldogs beat Ole Miss on Saturday, they'll be in position for that fourth spot (assuming the top three win out). But if No. 6 Ohio State wins out, the Buckeyes will be Big Ten champions. Say what you will about the strength of the Big Ten, the Buckeyes would have a conference championship and the fourth-ranked Bulldogs would not. Both would only have one loss.

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