For a team that started the season ranked No. 1 in the Associated Press Top 25 poll, the USC Trojans have left a lot to be desired after losing their fourth game of the year in Week 12. All that can be forgiven, though, if Lane Kiffin's squad can upset Notre Dame in the regular season finale.
This USC team looks like a lost vessel trying to find its way back on course. But there is no one out there willing to lend a helping hand. It is clear that the expectations coming into the season were way too high, which speaks to the problems of having preseason polls more than it does anything about the Trojans.
But in sports, all we remember is what you did lately. The Trojans can't win the Pac-12, have no hopes of playing in a high-profile bowl game and could be without their starting quarterback against one of the best defenses in the country (h/t Beto Duran of ESPN Los Angeles):
Beto Duran (@DuranSports) November 18, 2012
Other than that, though, things are going just fine for USC.
So, how do the Trojans salvage their season? What is the magic formula to taking down Notre Dame? Here is what USC must do next Saturday night in order to knock off its bitter rival from the Midwest.
Get Matt Barkley Healthy
Using the theory of Occam's Razor, which says that the simplest solutions are usually correct, we start with the Trojans needing to get Barkley back on the field ready for this game.
USC's backup quarterback is freshman Max Wittek, who has thrown just nine passes all season—six of which came in mop-up duty during Trojans blowouts.
For all the guff the Trojans get, Barkley has had a very good season. It hasn't been as good as his junior season, of course, but a lot of teams in the country would love to have a quarterback who completes 63.6 percent of his passes for 3,273 yards and 36 touchdowns.
Notre Dame's stifling defense hasn't allowed a touchdown pass in two weeks. A freshman quarterback would be ripe for the picking with this veteran-laden defense.
Barkley has to be able to play and play at a high level in order for USC to be able to move the ball against Notre Dame.
Make A Commitment To The Running Game
What Is The Trojans' Best Course of Action vs. ND?
While quarterback play will help set up the Trojans offense in this game, teams that have been able to run the ball have given Notre Dame problems this season.
Look at all the close games the Irish have played this season, particularly against Michigan, Stanford and Pittsburgh, and you realize that their opponents were able to have success running the ball. Those three teams combined to run for 452 yards against Notre Dame.
USC wants to be a high-flying offensive team, but Lane Kiffin must shift his approach and commit to establishing the run. The Trojans have two very good running back in Silas Redd and Curtis McNeal. It is time to cut them loose in prime time.
Make Bad Everett Golson Show Up
One of the biggest problems Notre Dame had at the beginning of the season was at quarterback, because Everett Golson couldn't stop turning the ball over. He had seven turnovers through six games.
Since that time, however, Golson has looked much better. He is more comfortable in the pocket and has the ability to scramble when he needs to. But it is important to remember that he is still a redshirt freshman.
Not to mention the fact that this is the biggest and most important game Notre Dame has played in since 1993. A victory here will all but guarantee the Irish a spot in the 2013 BCS Championship Game. That kind of pressure should work to USC's advantage, as the Trojans are playing just to improve their bowl positioning.
The Trojans have had their issues on defense, allowing at least 28 points five times this season, including three times in the last four games. They need to create pressure with the defensive line, force Golson into moving around and not let him put as much of his arm as he wants to in his throws. The turnover bug is still in his system; it is just a matter of being able to wake it up long enough to keep the Trojans in this game.