ND's 2012 opponents, Week 12: USC

Week 12: Nov. 24 at USC (at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles)


Series: Notre Dame leads all-time, 43-35-5

2011 record: 10-2 (7-2 Pac-12; first, South Division)

Head coach: Lane Kiffin (18-7, two years)

Returning starters: Offense: 9; defense: 8; kicker/punter: 2

Top returners

QB Matt Barkley, RB Curtis McNeal, WR Robert Woods, WR Marqise Lee, OL Khaled Holmes, DL Devon Kennard, DL Wes Horton, LB Dion Bailey, LB Hayes Pullard, CB Nickell Robey, S T.J. McDonald, K Andre Heidari

Key losses

RB Marc Tyler, FB Rhett Ellison, WR Brandon Carswell, OL Matt Kalil, DL Nick Perry, DL DaJohn Harris, DL Christian Tupou, LB Chris Galippo, LS Chris Pousson

2011 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Curtis McNeal* (1,005 yards)

Passing: Matt Barkley* (3,528 yards)

Receiving: Robert Woods* (1,292 yards)

Tackles: Dion Bailey*, Hayes Pullard* (81)

Sacks: Nick Perry (9.5)

Interceptions: T.J. McDonald* (3)

Three questions for ... Pac-12 blogger Ted Miller:

So let me get this straight: USC returns 17 starters from a 10-2 team, including the Heisman frontrunner at quarterback. Where are the weaknesses with the 2012 Trojans?

Ted Miller: Officially, it's 19 starters -- don't forget both specialists! -- but who's counting? The only position that gets hit by attrition is the defensive line, which loses three starters. If you were to try and peg one area where the Trojans lack certainty, it would be the D-line, though it's worth noting there's plenty of talent up front. In general, the most notable area where USC could run into trouble is depth. The starting 24 -- including both specialists -- looks like the best collection of starters in the nation. But a couple of injuries could give the Trojans problems.

The 2011 season and this year's recruiting push has been remarkable, especially given the program's limitations in the wake of NCAA sanctions. How has Lane Kiffin done it?

TM: Well, Kiffin is selling a pretty good product: An elite football power in the middle of L.A. While Kiffin has been heavily criticized through the years -- and not without justification -- there are plenty of people who will tell you he's a good coach and a smart guy. There has to be a reason that USC, Tennessee and the Oakland Raiders gave him opportunities when he was so young and unproven. Further, USC has resources, and that allowed Kiffin to hire a very good staff, including his dad Monte Kiffin, a defensive coaching legend, and recruiting savant Ed Orgeron. All this said: Let's keep in mind that Kiffin hasn't captured any big prizes yet. Yes, the recruiting has been outstanding and seems to be rising to another level. Yes, last year's Top-5 finish was impressive with no postseason to motivate players. But let's see him win the conference and a national title before we crown him.

Putting you on the spot here: Does USC enter its clash with Notre Dame undefeated, and are the Trojans winning it all this year?

TM: The big date on USC's schedule is a Nov. 3 visit from Oregon. That could be a battle of undefeated teams with the winner setting itself up for the national title game. Because that game is in L.A., I believe the Trojans will prevail. I think the odds, therefore, are decent the Irish square off in the Coliseum on Nov. 24 with an undefeated team eyeballing the national title game. Talk about a spoiler opportunity. But -- and this is a big "but" -- going undefeated is extremely difficult, even when a team is better than everyone on its schedule. Under Pete Carroll, USC was notorious for blowing one game a season. USC's schedule isn't brutal, but there are no true patsies. If the Trojans decide not to show up one weekend, they could get clipped and knocked out of the title chase.