Friday, October 21, 2011
5 things to watch: USC-Notre Dame
By Pedro Moura
1. The lights and the rivalry: It's the first time in 21 years they'll be kicking off under the lights at Notre Dame Stadium, as if they needed anything else to help hype up this game. This will certainly do the trick. Neither USC nor Notre Dame are ranked, but both schools are on the cusp of it, and it appears like Saturday's high-stakes game will be fairly well-matched -- even though the Irish are favored by close to 10 points in some sportsbooks. South Bend isn't exactly built for night games, so it will be interesting to see how the Domers handle the unusual late kickoff, in terms of tailgating and the overall atmosphere around the stadium.
2. Tyler, McNeal and the running backs: The injured Marc Tyler made the trip to South Bend with the Trojans and is a game-time decision for Saturday's game, but whether or not he's able to play Curtis McNeal is still going to most likely make his first career start. The 5-7, 180-pound back has proven consistently capable of gaining five or six yards per carry this season, and that's exactly what USC will need him to do against an Irish defense that has played quite well for the last month. And who are the Trojans going to use as McNeal's second-stringer if Tyler can't go? It seems like the smart money should be on freshman George Farmer, who made his collegiate debut last week against Cal and fumbled on his fourth carry.
3. Interceptions and turnovers: Notre Dame sophomore quarterback Tommy Rees is certainly a poised player and one with a proven record of leading his team to wins, but another thing he's also proven is that he's liable to throw the occasional interception. USC capitalized on the last turnover-prone quarterback it faced in Cal quarterback Zach Maynard, and that really took the Bears out of the game last week. Can the Trojans do the same against Rees, who hasn't thrown a pick for two straight weeks now, the longest stretch of his career thus far? Their defense functions a heck of a lot better when its producing turnovers, even if it's just one or two a game. If the Irish hang on to the ball, it's hard to envision a scenario where USC outscores them outright and wins the contest.
4. Recruiting implications: There are 16 prospects visiting Notre Dame this weekend, all of whom will be attending the game -- a virtually unprecedented number that will have massive implications for the Irish 2012 recruiting class and potentially USC's as well. Many of the players visiting South Bend are also being recruited by USC and some are considering scheduling official visits with the Trojans. Of course, USC and Notre Dame have done battle on a number of top prospects in the past, and, based off previous years, the winner of this game would presumably get a sizable jump on the loser with those players. Trojans coach Lane Kiffin mentioned this week that Reggie Bush was at the 2002 USC-Notre Dame game at the Coliseum when quarterback Carson Palmer went off for 425 yards and four touchdowns in a 44-13 win. Before that game, Bush had been regarded as a Notre Dame leaner.
5. Floyd vs. Woods: It's one of the best matchups yet this year of two top players at one position going head-to-head. Both players have been prolific this season -- Robert Woods slightly more but Michael Floyd's numbers impressive all the same. Who will do a better job of leading their offense? Woods obviously has a better-regarded quarterback in Matt Barkley delivering him the ball, but Floyd has found success against the Trojans in the past and is coming off a two-game stretch where he's averaged nine catches, 106 yards and a touchdown. And last Thursday's game against Cal was Woods' worst of the season, with the sophomore wideout pulling in just five balls for 36 yards.