Notre Dame vs. USC: Greatest Intersectional Rivalry in College Football 2012

Amy Lamare@GridironGoddessSenior Analyst INovember 22, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! I hope you’re all enjoying lovely days and meals with your favorite people and pets today.

How fitting that USC/Notre Dame takes place on Thanksgiving weekend when the game is in Los Angeles. These are two programs that share much in common in terms of tradition and power and the rivalry is respectful, and fun.

Top-ranked Notre Dame heads into the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Saturday evening undefeated and poised to make a run at their first BCS national title since 1988.

The Irish lead this series 43-35-5 but have only beaten the Trojans in Los Angeles once since 2001.


A Little History

Legend has it that this, the greatest intersectional rivalry in college football, began as a conversation between Knute Rockne’s wife and the wife of USC’s then-athletic director Gywnn Wilson.

In the 1920s USC was looking for a national rival to build their program. USC sent AD Wilson and his wife to Nebraska where Notre Dame was playing Nebraska on Thanksgiving Day. While Notre Dame had their butts handed to them that day by the Huskers 17-0, one of the greatest traditions in college football took root—just not with Knute Rockne.

The story goes that Rockne resisted the idea of a home-and-home series with USC because of the long distances the teams would have to travel to get to each other. However, USC’s Mrs. Wilson was able to convince Mrs. Rockne that a trip every other year to sunny Southern California in November was better than the trip they were currently on in cold, snowy Nebraska.

Mrs. Rockne applied the pressure on her husband and on December 4, 1926 USC and Notre Dame became fixtures on each other’s schedules.

Since 1926, there have been many memorable games in this series. This year’s could go down as one of them if USC, led by brand new (former four star) QB Max Wittek pulls off the upset in Los Angeles.


The 2012 Contest

Notre Dame is trying to put the finishing touches on a dream season. The Irish are 11-0 to USC’s 7-4. Notre Dame, for a little more history, hasn’t been atop the polls since 1993 and, as mentioned, won their last national title in 1988. (The year the Irish and Trojans were Nos. 1 and 2 respectively.)

There is a lot at stake in this game for both teams in totally different ways.  Notre Dame, obviously, wants that crystal football. USC’s faithful, on the other hand, would just like to not have a five-loss season. That is not acceptable in Troy.

Consider this—if the Trojans fall to Notre Dame on Saturday; it will be the first time USC has lost to both UCLA and Notre Dame in the same season in 17 years. Lane Kiffin would also then become the first coach since Paul Hackett to have at least five losses in two of his first three seasons as head coach at USC.

Look, I know I’ve written a lot about how Kiffin must go—and I do believe he must—just not this year. USC cannot afford it either financially or in terms of recruiting. That said, I have to think that athletic director Pat Haden has a short list of viable replacements and I hope they are all defensive gurus who fall far from the Monte Kiffin coaching tree. But I digress.

Notre Dame must come into the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Saturday evening and beat USC to keep their title hopes alive. Sounds, easy, right? Especially given USC’s play of late.

If Max Wittek and the Trojans have their way (and  Lane Kiffin calls a decent offensive game), it will be anything but easy.

Consider that very little tape exists on Wittek for the Irish to review. Now consider that all that Wittek has been doing is reviewing tape. That should give the Trojan offense a bit of an advantage out of the gate. USC has the opportunity to confuse the Notre Dame defense by showing them an offense that hasn’t existed before this matchup.

Of course USC also has Marqise Lee, arguably the most exciting player in the country right now, and that could make all the difference in this game.

USC simply cannot fall behind early again—a pattern they’ve established this season. If the Trojans are down early against the Irish, well, Lane better be considering what he wants to do in 2014, because USC alumni and boosters will be making a lot of noise about his continued tenure in Troy.

On the Notre Dame side, Manti Te’o, the Irish’s star senior linebacker, is in the hunt for the Heisman. He’s already written himself into the history books and lore of the Notre Dame football program. Interestingly, did you know that Te’o had originally committed to USC?  Think about how different the Trojan defense could be with Te’o.

Notre Dame is 11-0 in large part due to their defense. The Irish are ranked first nationally in scoring defense, fifth in rushing defense and 11th in pass efficiency, allowing only 14 plays of 25 yards or longer. There’s also the scary (for Trojans) fact that from September 8  through October 20, the Irish defense didn’t allow a single offensive touchdown in 17 quarters.

That said, other than Stanford—which came down to a very controversial goal-line call—who have they played?  The Irish needed a major officiating mistake to beat 4-6 Pitt-- the refs failed to flag Notre Dame for having two players on the field with the same number at the same time.

Who have they played?

Notre Dame hasn’t seen an offense that can play like USC does when the Trojans are firing on all cylinders this season, while USC has faced some venerable defenses such as at Stanford. So while signs may seem to obviously point to a Notre Dame edge—it just isn’t that simple.

Consider that the No. 1 team in the nation has lost in each of the past two weeks.        

USC will need to air it out to Lee, Robert Woods and Nelson Agholor as well as allow Curtis McNeal to slash up the Irish defense as he did in 2011 when he rushed for 118 yards in South Bend. USC’s defense—well, they have to show up and be fast. That shouldn’t be too much to ask for the Monte Kiffin-led unit that has underperformed all year. (That’s sarcasm, folks.)

Notre Dame’s QB  Everett Golson, TE Tyler Eifert and RBs Cierre Wood and Theo Riddick could have a field day with the porous USC defense.

If Notre Dame wins on Saturday, the Irish are most certainly BCS Championship Game-bound.

But wouldn’t it be great if USC could play spoiler to their greatest rival’s undefeated season?

I don’t know about you, but I’m hoping lucky No. 13 Max Wittek has a star-making day against Notre Dame’s fierce front seven and the Trojans end this disappointing season with a win.  The USC seniors who have stuck with the program through postseason bans and scholarship sanctions deserve as much.

Fight On! Happy Thanksgiving! Beat the Irish!


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