Given all that has transpired this season in Troy, it is admittedly hard to imagine a scenario where coach Lane Kiffin actually calls a dynamic offensive game, the USC defense steps up and stops being as porous as cheesecloth and the Trojans knock off the No. 1 team in the country this weekend.
After all, Lane Kiffin has zero wins against ranked teams this season. Why would this week be any different, especially without senior QB Matt Barkley?
Except the difference this week is that, with Matt Barkley injured, the era of Max Wittek at USC officially begins.
Why is that good?
Well, for one thing, very little tape exists on Wittek, so the Trojans may be able to use that to their advantage to disarm the venerable Irish defense for a bit.
Wittek, who is an impressive 6’4” and 245 pounds, is 8-of-9 on the year with 95 yards and one touchdown in six games.
So basically, Trojans fans have not seen enough of Wittek, but that also means USC’s opponents haven’t either.
Make no mistake: Notre Dame is going to follow UCLA’s prescription for rushing the Trojans offense and at least attempting to render it useless. It was remarkably easy for the Bruins to accomplish that, and the Fighting Irish, by all counts, are a much better team.
It could get ugly.
However, miracles do happen on the gridiron from time to time, and this rivalry is no stranger to those miracles.
Who Will Win this game?
Consider one of the greatest games in the history of the USC-Notre Dame rivalry—1974’s “The Comeback.”
USC trailed that game by 24 points at the very end of the second quarter when Anthony Davis scored on a seven-yard pass from current USC AD Pat Haden. As the second half kicked off, Davis took the opening kickoff 102 yards for a score, the first of 35 points that USC would accumulate in the third quarter. Davis scored two more TDs that quarter in a game featuring not just Haden but current assistant AD J.K. McKay. USC scored 55 points in under 17 minutes to defeat the Irish 55-24.
That is not just one of the greatest games in this storied rivalry that dates back to 1926, but it is one of the greatest college-football games of all time—a category to which these two schools, against various opponents, are not strangers (see Sam “Bam” Cunningham and USC vs. Alabama in 1970 for starters).
The difference in 2012's game will have to start with the play-calling.
Lane Kiffin cannot lull the fans to sleep with short screen passes. For one thing, that’s what the Irish are expecting.
With Marqise Lee’s ability to break short passes and with Robert Woods’ ability to remain composed in traffic—not to mention threats in Nelson Agholor, Xavier Grimble and Randall Telfer—if Wittek and Kiffin can put together a game plan that spreads the ball out and varies it from play to play, the Trojans have a chance to take down their greatest rival’s undefeated season.
If USC beats Notre Dame, it is fairly assured that the Trojans will end the Irish’s BCS title hopes. For any Trojan, this is an irresistibly delicious proposition. With the loss at UCLA last week, the Trojans are expected to come out hungry and angry, and the Irish will take the brunt of that.
I’ll be back on Thursday to explore the particulars of this year’s matchup in depth.
But for now, I'm just wishing Matt Barkley a very speedy recovery. And thank you, Matt; over the past four years, you have embodied everything that is amazing about being a Trojan. Your heart, character, loyalty and fight will never be forgotten.