USC looking for nine in a row vs. Irish

While angry fans and critical sportswriters have had plenty to say about USC's execrable performance in a 36-7 loss at Oregon State last weekend, the identity of coach Lane Kiffin and the Trojans' worst critic might be surprising.

It's Lane Kiffin.

"We were just horrible," Kiffin said. "We played as bad as you can play. I saw some things I hadn't seen in 10 games. I don't know where they came from, so obviously I didn't do a very good job. I can't even fathom that we scored seven points. It's like a bad dream. We're trying to move on."

So how do you really feel, Lane?

He is correct, though. And they best wake up and move on. The Trojans, now 7-4, play their two archrivals over the next two weekends: Notre Dame and UCLA. Win those games and the season can be considered a moderate success, considering the circumstances of the arrival of a new coach and playing under the dark cloud of harsh NCAA sanctions.

Lose one or both? Not good, particularly when you consider the recent dominance -- the Trojans have won eight consecutive games against the Fighting Irish and have lost just once to the Bruins since 2001.

A week ago, USC looked like a good bet to sweep to a 10-win season. Now they look ripe for another upset defeat, particularly when you consider the dispiriting loss at Oregon State also included a high-ankle sprain to QB Matt Barkley, who is questionable for the Irish's visit. Backup Mitch Mustain didn't look good in relief, either, completing 8 of 17 passes for 60 yards.

Kiffin said that Barkley is undergoing two-a-day sessions of rehab, but that he expects Mustain -- who is more comfortable playing out of the shotgun -- to perform better with a week of preparation as the starter, if that proves necessary.

The Irish's season under first-year coach Brian Kelly hasn't exactly been placid. Off the field, there's been tragedy and controversy. On the field, Notre Dame was mostly written off following losses to Navy and Tulsa.

But then the Irish upset Utah and whipped Army by a combined count of 55-6. At 6-5, they are bowl-eligible, but if they beat the Trojans and get to 7-5, they could upgrade their bowl options, including taking the Big East's slot in the Champs Sports Bowl in Orlando.

Orlando sounds good when you've been in South Bend during a difficult fall.

USC, of course, can't play in a bowl game. It's only motivations are pride and retaining the Jeweled Shillelagh.

For much of the year, pride was enough. But that didn't seem present during the listless effort at Oregon State. Perhaps the notion of becoming the first team to beat Notre Dame nine consecutive times will reignite motivation among the Trojans.