"Hey! What about us?"
That pretty much sums up the feelings of the Notre Dame faithful over the past week. As Notre Dame vaulted to the third spot in the BCS standings, they were left on the outside looking in. Their resume, however, left them feeling like they were worthy of a top-two spot.
Guess what? None of that matters now. After Kansas State and Oregon both went down over the weekend, the Irish now control their own destiny and are 60 minutes away from earning a bid to the BCS National Championship, presumably against the winner of the Alabama/Georgia SEC Championship game.
What does this mean?
For one, there is unprecedented pressure on Notre Dame. As the season went along; players, coaches and fans grew more excited with each passing victory. It's accumulated and has come to the point all parties were hoping for: They need one, single victory in LA to have the chance to capture their first title since 1988.
There is one problem, though. The Trojans of USC would love to spoil the Notre Dame dream season. Matt Barkley won't be suiting up in this one, but his array of weapons will be. The Trojans march out the best receiving trio in the country in Marqise Lee, Robert Woods and Nelson Agholor. You've heard it all season: If the Notre Dame defense has a weak spot, an Achilles' heel, if you will, it's the secondary. That could make for an interesting evening this weekend.
Taking over for Matt Barkley will be redshirt freshman Max Wittek. Obviously, Wittek is an unknown commodity, and it's no doubt better than having Matt Barkley out there. The key to slowing down the explosive USC passing attack is getting pressure on Wittek, which is something the Irish should have no problem doing with their strong front seven matching up against the weak offensive front of USC.
I would be surprised if Wittek attempted fewer than 45 pass attempts, meaning it will be open season for Prince Shembo, Stephon Tuitt and company. That's just the way defensive coordinator Bob Diaco likes it.
Make no mistake: This is going to be the Super Bowl for USC. I was in the postgame press conference after USC beat Notre Dame in South Bend last season, and one thing was painfully obvious: Lane Kiffin does not care for Notre Dame. Not one bit. He is going to do everything within his power to win this football game and spoil the title hopes of the Fighting Irish.
Brian Kelly knows this, and he will get the message to his team loud and clear. I expect Notre Dame to be extremely effective in the rushing attack and look to open up the passing game off of play-action. USC has played a few explosive offenses this season, and they have all had luck throwing the ball down the field, something Notre Dame has improved at each week.
On the other side of the ball, as I noted earlier, expect the Notre Dame front to get a ton of pressure on Wittek, forcing him into a few mistakes. The "bend but don't break" defense of the Irish will be put to the test, as this is the best array of weapons they will face all season.
In the end, if Notre Dame can play disciplined, focused football, limit mistakes and get pressure on Wittek with a four-man rush, they have a great chance at finding themselves in Miami in early January.
So, here we are. Notre Dame is back in the top spot, and the only thing standing between this team and a national championship bid is a showdown against its biggest rival.
Lou Holtz once said, "I think that we have opportunities all around us, sometimes we just don't recognize them."
Rest assured—the Fighting Irish recognize this one, and it's one that they can't afford to let pass.
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