- Matt Fortuna, ESPN Staff Writer
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Coming to you one day early because of the holiday.
When Notre Dame has the ball: Everett Golson has grown steadily over the course of the season, and now he has the chance to deliver a title-game berth for the Irish. As long as the quarterback doesn't get careless with the ball, Notre Dame should be able to move consistently against the Trojans. The ground game has been there for the Irish all season, and I'd expect them to rely on that early to try to open things up on the perimeter with Tyler Eifert and T.J. Jones. The offense is clicking at the right time, and it's facing a defense that has been reeling, with many calling for coordinator Monte Kiffin's job.
When USC has the ball: Don't get excited just because Matt Barkley isn't back there. Max Wittek is making his first career start, he's got probably the best receiver duo in the country and, frankly, he's playing with house money. For all their faults, the Trojans are loaded at the skill positions and are capable of lighting up the scoreboard. Notre Dame will look to do what it did to Oklahoma -- allow the short gains but stop the big play. Make the Trojans beat you by executing down the field, play after play. This is the No. 1 scoring defense for a reason, and as long as it does what got it to 11-0, the Irish should fare well Saturday night.
Intangible: USC loses its fifth game of the season, to the No. 1 team in the country? Few can fault a backup quarterback for that. Beat the rival Irish and ruin their national title hopes? This is how legends are born in this rivalry, so why not say you're going to win, as Wittek did Tuesday? Notre Dame's path to the title game is simple: Win. At risk of hyperbole, a loss Saturday could rank among the biggest letdowns in school history. How the Irish handle that pressure determines the outcome Saturday.
Prediction: Notre Dame 21, USC 10. Golson stays cool on the road, and the Irish punch their ticket to South Florida.
1dSam Khan Jr.