The Trojans will enter the last two weeks of their regular season 7-3. The losses, of course, came to Stanford, Arizona and Oregon. Lane Kiffin has been roundly criticized. Monte Kiffin has practically been run out of town on the strength of the Trojan Nation’s vitriol.
But none of that will matter if Lane & Company can just beat UCLA and Notre Dame, because when it comes down to it—those are the only two games that matter to the Trojans.
Oh sure, playing for BCS titles, Rose Bowl berths and top ten accolades are what everyone really wants. But when those things are lost, or the season is not going as expected—UCLA and Notre Dame are all that matter.
Heck, USC could be 10-0 right now and if the Trojans lose to UCLA and Notre Dame, the Trojan Nation would be calling for Kiffin’s head.
The rivalries are that important, that strong, that deep and abiding. Whether playing for the Victory bell (UCLA) or the Jeweled Shillelagh (Notre Dame), the Trojans and Bruins and USC and Notre Dame take these games very very very seriously.
Let’s take a look at a brief overview of these games and these rivalries. Each will be explored in more detail the week of their respective games.
USC vs. UCLA
Saturday, November 17, 12 p.m. PT at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena
The cross-town rivalry kicked off this morning with the inaugural We Run The City 5k to benefit the Special Olympics. About 1200 runners affiliated with USC and UCLA took to the UCLA campus to battle it out in a 3.11 mile race over their hilly campus (I was one of the Team USC runners).
All week long the trash talking will escalate.
Despite the Bruins being ranked ahead of the Trojans in the polls (mon dieu!) the threat of an upset is great. After all, it was 2006 when the Bruins and dashed the Trojans’ hopes of a trip back to the BCS National Championship game by beating them at the Rose Bowl.
In this cross-town battle for Los Angeles, anything can, will and does usually happen.
Tonight, for instance, twitter erupted in indignation after the UCLA Athletics account reportedly banned both the USC Drum Major from being on the field to prevent his ritual stabbing of the school logo (something he also does to the USC logo at the Coliseum).
They also prohibited the USC Trojan Marching Band from playing Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk—a song the TMB plays in on the original recording and who’s refrain goes “U-C-L-A Sucks” – at least it does when it is played around a USC student, alumni or fan.
On the UCLA side, Brett Hundley at QB and Jonathan Franklin at RB are something to watch out for. Do the Bruins overall have the firepower to stop the Trojans, who dominated them 50-0 last season? Probably not.
Will they win? It is possible. Anything is possible in a rivalry.
USC vs. Notre Dame
Saturday, November 22, 5 p.m. PT at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
USC vs. Notre Dame is the greatest intersectional rivalry in all of college football.
This rivalry has so much history, so many amazing players and many National Championships, Heismans, last minute wins, crazy comebacks and other shenanigans. Even football fans who are not from USC or Notre Dame tend to have a side they traditionally root for and some very solid reasons as to why they prefer the Trojans over the Irish, or vice versa.
“Notre Dame is relevant again.”
Brent Musberger uttered that sentence several weeks ago and a shiver went through my Trojan soul. See, I grew up during the 13-year-long USC losing streak. In fact, I remember exactly where I was when USC finally beat Notre Dame in 1996 for the first time since 1982.
I was at the Forum, watching Wayne Gretzky and the Kings play. When USC won, the announcer interrupted the game to share the news and the entire arena erupted in cheers. In my memory, the game stopped, but I am sure that is not true.
During my time at USC, I attended the 1988 game and at the time—ND was ranked No. 1 and USC was ranked No. 2. It was the last game of the season and for the first time in this storied series dating back to 1926 that both teams entered the game undefeated and ranked No. 1 and No. 2.
USC’s head coach was Larry Smith and their QB was Rodney Peete. The Irish were considered underdogs coming into the game in Los Angeles, but Lou Holtz and the Fighting Irish pulled out the win 27-10 and went on to win the National Championship.
The "Bush Push"
Of course the most infamous game between these two programs is the “Bush Push” in 2005. USC had beat the Irish by 31 points in each of the past three years. This was a close game from start to finish with the Irish taking the lead with two minutes left on a Brady Quinn TD run. The Trojans next drive would go down as one of the most famous and controversial in their history.
A fourth-and-nine pass from Matt Leinart to Dwayne Jarrett that brought the ball inside the Notre Dame 15 yard line extended the Trojan possession. With seven seconds to go, Leinart tried to get to the end zone but was hit hard and knocked out of bounds just short of the goal line. The clock continued to wind down and the Irish stormed the field thinking they’d won and broken the Trojans very long winning streak.
The officials put seven seconds back on the clock and the ball on the one-yard line. USC ran the ball, and, as you all know, RB Reggie Bush (or, he-who-shall-not-be-named) pushed Matt Leinart up over the pile and into the end zone, securing the victory for USC.
For Trojans no two games are more fun or more nerve wracking than UCLA and Notre Dame. Winning means everything. Losing is soul crushing.