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November 24, 2006
Game of the Week: Notre Dame at USC
"We just don't have enough skill for 5 wide. I think many of you will be surprised when ND beats SC using a more conservative game plan. Short passes and screens will open up the run just enough to win. D Walker will have a surprisingly good game. We will beat SC, and look like the better team on the field."
-- markleh on the The Four Horsemen Lounge message board on IrishIllustrated.com.
Southern California coach Pete Carroll refuses to stage an open campaign for a spot in the national title game.
"We don't have any control – other than the ability to win – over what's going to happen in the next couple of weeks," Carroll said. "So I'm not going to set our sights and our goals in that matter because it's not up to us. It's up to the system to choose us to be in the championship game. If that happens, that happens."
Carroll won't need to plead his team's case if the Trojans make a convincing enough statement on the field.
USC currently holds the No. 3 position in the Bowl Championship Series standings, but the Trojans likely would leapfrog Michigan and take the No. 2 spot by beating No. 5 Notre Dame and UCLA in their final two regular-season games.
If history offers any indication, the Trojans should win each of the next two weeks to earn the right to face No. 1 Ohio State in the national championship game. USC has beaten Notre Dame four consecutive times and has won its last seven meetings with UCLA.
Then again, the Trojans won't be the only team at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum this weekend that still has dreams of a national title.
Notre Dame hopes a one-sided victory over USC will earn the Irish a shot at the national championship, even though Irish coach Charlie Weis admits the odds are against his team.
"I'd say you'd need to have a very, very convincing win to even get into the discussion," Weis said.
The long-shot possibility of a national title isn't Notre Dame's only incentive.
Notre Dame's seniors don't want to leave school without a victory over the Trojans. The Irish made that clear last week when senior quarterback Brady Quinn led the fans' chants of "Beat SC! Beat SC!" after a 41-9 victory over Army.
The Irish also want to avenge last year's heartbreak. USC escaped Notre Dame a year ago with a thrilling 34-31 victory only after Matt Leinart dove into the end zone in the final seconds with help from a Reggie Bush push.
"Everyone's kind of had this game in the back of their minds the second half of the season," Notre Dame defensive tackle Trevor Laws said.
Notre Dame returned the nucleus of the team that played in the 2005 classic, while USC had to replace Leinart, Bush and many other players who helped the Trojans play for the national title each of the last three years.
Yet the Trojans still enter this game as a seven-point favorite to continue their recent mastery of Notre Dame.
Both teams have potent offenses. Quinn has set almost every career passing record at Notre Dame and likely will finish second to Ohio State's Troy Smith in the Heisman Trophy balloting. Quinn engineers an offense that has averaged 36 points per game during its current seven-game winning streak.
"He's a classic thrower," Carroll said. "He's got a strong arm. He's got good feet. He has vision down the field. He's resourceful. He's hard to sack, hard to get down because he's such a good competitor and such a good natural athlete. He shakes guys off and finds a way to make another throw or another play of it when he gets hit in the backfield.
"You can pull out the New England Patriots film and see him make the same kinds of plays that Tom Brady makes."
Southern California is nearly as explosive as Notre Dame while averaging 31 points per game. The Trojans boast arguably the nation's best receiving duo in Dwayne Jarrett and Steve Smith, though Notre Dame could make its own case with the tandem of Jeff Samardzija and Rhema McKnight.
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The difference between these two teams is on the other side of the ball.
Notre Dame ranks 44th in the nation in total defense and 47th in scoring defense. USC is 11th in scoring defense and 21st in total defense.
Since falling to Oregon State in their only loss of the season, the Trojans have allowed a total of 19 points in their last three games.
"They have talent all the way around the board, but we do too," Notre Dame tailback Darius Walker said. "This will definitely be a good one."
USC is playing well enough to return to its familiar spot near the top of the polls.
But this time USC isn't at the No. 1 spot, which leaves the Trojans trying to figure out all the possibilities that can get them into the national title game.
Carroll doesn't want to bother with all the mathematical formulas that will land USC at the No. 2 spot in the final BCS standings. He just wants to add up the score at the end of the day Saturday and know his team tallied more points than the Irish.
"I don't know how to figure the thing out," Carroll said. "We're going to play these games, and at the end of it we're going to have a chance to have an extraordinary season. If that's worthy of the selection process for the BCS game, then we'll pack up and go."