One game stands between Notre Dame and the college football national title.
What's more likely to happen?
And the Fighting Irish’s opponent in that game just happens to be its bitter rival, USC. Don’t count your undefeated seasons before they hatch—Lane Kiffin and company would absolutely love to ruin Notre Dame’s perfect record and eliminate it from BCS championship contention.
On that note, here are three keys to a Fighting Irish triumph over the Trojans.
3. Matt Barkley Injured
Scott Wolf of the Los Angeles Daily News reported that, according to sources, Barkley suffered a separated shoulder against UCLA on Saturday. The NFL Network’s Albert Breer then confirmed it was his throwing shoulder.
While it’s in poor taste to celebrate an injury, if Barkley doesn’t suit up against Notre Dame next week, the Irish's chance of victory will skyrocket.
With Barkley, one of the most talented passers in the nation, running its offense, USC recorded at least four touchdowns in all but three games this season, as well as each of its last five. The Fighting Irish have scored that many points just four times in regulation.
The Gold and Blue would leave black and blue in a shootout. Without Barkley, though, that’s unlikely to happen.
2. Establish the Run
It’s cliché, but Notre Dame needs its rushing attack to thrive against the Trojans. And that shouldn’t be too difficult.
USC has lost three of its last four games. In those losses, its stop unit surrendered an average of over 272 yards on the ground. If the Fighting Irish aren’t racking up the rushing yards, something is wrong, especially considering that Theo Riddick and Cierre Wood are having such phenomenal seasons.
The two halfbacks have combined for 1,454 rushing yards and eight touchdowns in 2012. Riddick is averaging 4.6 yards a pop, while Wood boasts an impressive average of 7.1. When either of them has managed to eclipse the century mark on the ground individually, only once was the game remotely close.
1. Force Turnovers
Barkley’s absence doesn’t guarantee victory for Notre Dame. While it’d be a huge loss for the Trojans to not have their starting QB, Max Wittek is no slouch.
USC’s second-stringer has only attempted nine passes this year, but he completed eight of them for 95 yards and a touchdown. The redshirt freshman was rated the No. 3 pro-style passer in the class of 2011 by Rivals. Wittek is talented and has weapons in Marquise Lee and Robert Woods that are more than capable of torching the Fighting Irish.
What Wittek doesn’t possess, though, is experience. And in USC’s three losses in its last four games, it turned the ball over a whopping 11 times.
If the No. 1-ranked Notre Dame defense gets in Wittek’s head—something it’s accomplished far more times than not on Saturdays this season—the turnovers will continue to add up, and it’ll be well on its way to a national championship berth.
David Daniels is a featured columnist at Bleacher Report and a syndicated writer.