Does Notre Dame have any hope vs. USC?

October, 12, 2009
10/12/09
7:11
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller


In 2001, Notre Dame whipped USC 27-16 in South Bend. Guy by the name of Pete Carroll got his first taste of the sour end of the battle for the Jeweled Shillelagh.

First and only.

 
  Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
  With Jimmy Clausen at quarterback, is this the year Notre Dame defeats USC?
The rivalry has featured more national champions, Heisman Trophy winners, All-Americans, and future NFL Hall of Famer inductees than any other collegiate match-up. And it's still college football's greatest intersectional rivalry -- in large part because in the age of cowardly scheduling, few such rivalry games still exist.

But, golly, other than classic "Bush Push" game in 2005, which the Trojans won 34-31, it hasn't been much of a contest.

The other six matchups during Carroll's tenure have been Trojans wins by 20 or more points. Five of those six have come by 31 or more points. The last two? USC won 38-0 and 38-3.

USC hasn't dominated any Pac-10 foe with quite the same ease.

So why should anyone expect anything different this season? The Trojans still look like their same ole physical, athletic, national-title-contending selves while the Irish are struggling against a mediocre schedule with a defense that gives up 400 yards per game.

Of course, the Irish are ranked -- 25th -- for the first time heading into the game since 2006.

And their quarterback, junior Jimmy Clausen, who picked Notre Dame over USC, is a Heisman Trophy candidate. He leads the nation in passing efficiency and has thrown 12 touchdown passes with just two interceptions.

Sure, USC is ranked sixth in the nation and has mostly posted impressive numbers on both sides of the ball. But the Trojans are starting a true freshman quarterback and they had to replace eight starters on defense from the dominant 2008 unit.

You might note that the Trojans and Notre Dame have a common opponent: Washington.

Yeah, yeah, yeah -- Taylor Mays this; Matt Barkley that -- scoreboard, folks! It's all that matters in the end. So what if those guys didn't play?

USC (and Washington) fans can deconstruct that all they want, but that little piece of scoreboard truth, coupled with the comfort of playing at home, should make the Irish feel as confident as they have been entering the game since 2006.

The Irish also have a significant advantage at the most important position: quarterback.

Barkley is what Clausen was in 2007 -- the No. 1 prep quarterback in the nation, starting as a true freshman for one of the nation's premier programs.

No doubt that Barkley handled his transition to college with more maturity and humility. But the biggest difference between Clausen two years ago and Barkley today is the Trojans have way more talent than the 2007 Irish team that went 3-9.

Way, way more talent.

It's not hard to recognize Barkley's poise and skill, but he's still only thrown three touchdown passes with two interceptions. His job Saturday is to not lose the game.

Clausen's job is to hoist his team on his shoulders and shock the world.

No pressure, though.

Clearly, the moment will mean a lot more for Clausen and coach Charlie Weis on Saturday. Clausen is still looking for that redletter performance against a quality foe that will identify him as a great quarterback.

Weis can save his job with a victory. And another spanking my prelude him losing it.

Finally, there is this: At some point, Notre Dame is going to again beat USC.

Let's not forget that that Fighting Irish still lead the series, 42-33-5 (USC is 22-17-3 since 1967, but pre-face-mask football counts, too).

Does that mean I'm picking Notre Dame to win?

Are you nuts?

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