USC enters Notre Dame Stadium to face the Fighting Irish with its fourth different head coach in as many years. Notre Dame enters Saturday looking to keep its playoff hopes alive, and with a chip on its shoulder after losing 49-14 to the arch rival Trojans last season.
So, who is the more dangerous team -- the Trojans rallying amid a wild week, or the Irish looking for revenge from last year’s embarrassment?
Pac-12 reporter Kyle Bonagura and ACC/Notre Dame reporter Matt Fortuna debate.
Bonagura says USC: For most teams, a bizarre mid-season ouster of a head coach would be tough to bounce back from. The uncertainty, the distractions, it’s a lot to deal with. But then there’s USC. Coach Steve Sarkisian’s dismissal after 18 games as the head coach falls in line, in a strange way, with what has become the program’s new normal. It was only two years ago that Lane Kiffin, also five games into the season, suffered a similar fate and the team was immediately better for it.
Whether USC can capture the magic it found two years ago remains to be seen, but nothing about the team’s practices the last three days indicated the players had somehow lost focus. If anything, the practices appeared livelier and more intense than those in the previous few weeks.
The question becomes: Will that translate come game time?
So much of what goes into preparation happens away from the field, and, from a USC perspective, that’s where any concerns should rest.
This is still a team that entered the season with enough talent to dictate consideration for the College Football Playoff. With the right motivation, it can still be a very dangerous team.
Fortuna says Notre Dame: There is no minimizing all that USC has been through this week, through no fault of the players who will make the trip to South Bend. And there’s really no telling just how they will respond come 7:30 p.m. Saturday. That being said, well, let’s revisit last year’s L.A. massacre, lest the home team be peeking ahead to next week’s bye:
USC won 49-14, and it had raced to a 35-0 lead. The game ended up being the beginning of the end for Everett Golson, who was yanked in what turned out to be his final start in a Notre Dame uniform. To top it off, Irish coach Brian Kelly essentially thanked then-USC coach Steve Sarkisian for showing the Irish mercy. In a rivalry game.
"It's a red-letter day for our football players and coaches alike,” Kelly said after that game. “Two years ago, we were playing for a national championship. Today we got our butts beat, and it wasn't as close as the score. I thought Coach was very generous today to keep running the football to keep the score where it was."
Yes, the Irish were a depleted group coming off three losses. But the Trojans weren’t exactly playing with a full deck, either, having lost to another rival, UCLA, the week before, with just 48 scholarship players dressed for that one.
Cody Kessler threw six touchdown passes in last year’s game, the most Notre Dame had ever given up in a game. To put that in perspective, the Irish have allowed eight total touchdown passes in the seven games since then.
Notre Dame players have been asked about last year’s game all week, and you can bet they cannot wait for an opportunity to change the conversation come Saturday night. Throw in the fact that the Irish have already suffered one loss in a big game this year -- and that they still feel they can make a national title run this year -- and they will be anything but overconfident while facing USC.