Too much stacked against them
I'd like to think that USC will pull off an upset and beat Notre Dame Saturday. I'd like to think that Max Wittek will step into the spotlight in his first collegiate start and shock the top-ranked Irish and spoil their national championship aspirations.
But reason, logic and recent history tell me otherwise.
Everything I've seen from USC and Notre Dame this season tells me the Irish will beat the Trojans and go on to play in the BCS National Championship Game.
I probably would have picked the Irish even if Matt Barkley were playing, but with Barkley ruled out with a shoulder injury and Wittek making his first start since high school against one of the best defenses in the country, it's hard to imagine USC handing Notre Dame its first loss of the season.
USC has lost every major game on its schedule against a ranked opponent (Stanford, Arizona, Oregon and UCLA). The Trojans' biggest win this season has been an unimpressive 24-14 win over 7-4 Washington. And now I'm supposed to expect USC, with its backup quarterback, to suddenly beat the No. 1 team in the country?
Sorry, I'm not buying it. Notre Dame won't blow out USC. The Irish haven't blown out many teams en route to their 11-0 record, but they've won every big game on their schedule, which is more than I can say for USC this season.
Lack of pressure on Trojans' side
USC has nothing to lose. Notre Dame has everything to lose. In a rivalry game like this, you'd rather be the hunter than the prey. Even with Max Wittek stepping in for Matt Barkley at quarterback, the Trojans present a scary last obstacle to the Irish playing in the BCS title game.
Remember the frenzy of emotion USC faced in South Bend in 2005, its 27-game winning streak about to blow up before the "Bush Push" let it get out of town still on track? Notre Dame is about to see that kind of atmosphere in the Coliseum and that kind of fight from USC.
The goal is to limit Notre Dame's stay atop the rankings to one week, maybe even knock them out of the top spot for another 19 years. If these players do that, they will have -- at long last -- redeemed themselves in the eyes of their fans and the players who went before them.
You can't discount anything the Irish have done in surviving to this point without a loss. They went on the road and beat Oklahoma, a team that now has a better offensive ranking than USC. Notre Dame's defense is among the best in the nation, maybe second only to Alabama's.
But you wonder whether the Irish have seen firepower of the kind the Trojans can throw when things are clicking. You don't have to wonder whether they've seen a receiver combo as good as Marqise Lee and Robert Woods. They haven't. Nobody else has one.
This is the kind of game in which we could finally see USC's talent pour out, free of any expectations or pressure. It's all about spite now, and that should be plenty of motivation in a game like this.