Few rivalries are as storied as USC-Notre Dame. In recent years, implications have matched the level of pomp. There isn't a date more anticipated on either team's calendar.
USC has its Pac-12 Conference docket, loaded with important matchups. Notre Dame plays one of the most rigorous schedules in college football, featuring several games of historic significance.
But as Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly emphasized this week, the 87 years and 84 games give this series particular meaning.
"Our players will be the first ones to admit that this is our rivalry game,” Kelly said in his weekly press conference, per UND.com. "This is our game that we look forward to. It's part of the history of Notre Dame football that they really recognize as that one singular game.''
Interim USC head coach Ed Orgeron is getting his first taste from the perspective of leading man, but he's well aware of its significance from his time as an assistant.
Orgeron mentioned athletic director Pat Haden, senior associate athletic director J.K. McKay, former head coach John Robinson and former USC standouts Marcus Allen and Ronnie Lott when discussing the rivalry on Tuesday's Pac-12 coaches teleconference.
"All the tradition's there. The respect for the rivalry is utmost in the Trojan family," Orgeron said.
With such importance riding on one game, it’s no wonder the rivalry’s impact spills over beyond the late October or late November weekend in which they meet.
The 2006 Rose Bowl—USC’s last shot at the BCS Championship—would never have happened had the controversial ending of that season's Trojan-Fighting Irish bout gone differently.
Even in defeat, Notre Dame athletic brass extended first-year head coach Charlie Weis’ contract.
"In a very short period of time, Charlie has clearly and impressively demonstrated the ability to take the Notre Dame program where we all want it to go," former athletics director Kevin White said in his announcement, which came just two weeks after the infamous “Bush Push.”
Three straight years of 31-point TrojanS wins was enough for a three-point loss to inspire supreme confidence.
USC regained that dominant presence the following year in a 44-24 rout that effectively ended the Fighting Irish’s BCS Championship hopes and kept the Trojans alive for one more week. Weis was out as head coach three years later.
The Jeweled Shillelagh spent every year from 2002 through 2009 in Los Angeles, but in recent years the programs are on much more equal footing.
Merely coming close is no longer an adequate measuring stick. Both programs expect wins, and both programs seek championships.
Last year Notre Dame preserved its place in the national title game for the first time in 25 years by outlasting USC, 22-13, and scoring the rivalry’s fourth straight win for the visiting team.
There are no national championship implications at stake Saturday. But both the Trojans and Fighting Irish are at a crossroads for this season.
Each sports two losses, and both are out of the Top 25 polls. The campaign can quickly turn around for the winner, though, as recent precedent suggests.
USC used its 31-17 win in South Bend, Ind., two seasons ago as a springboard into a strong finish.
"I would say it's our team's biggest win since we've been here because of all the stuff around it," former USC head coach Lane Kiffin said in his postgame interview.
"All the stuff around it" included NCAA sanctions and a rocky start to the Trojans' season. They struggled in wins over Minnesota and Utah, surrendered 41 points to sputtering Arizona and were blown out at Arizona State.
But USC effectively snuffing out a Notre Dame rally effort began a final stretch that included routs of bowl teams Washington and UCLA and a road win at Oregon.
USC suffered another rocky start to this season, which ultimately cost Kiffin his job.
Yet, the Trojans can still finish 2013 strong. A Pac-12 South title, and thus a shot at the Rose Bowl remain in play.
"This is Game 2 of the new season," Orgeron said. "I'm sure come Saturday night when we walk out in South Bend, Ind., it's going to mean a lot to our team."
It's fitting that it all could start against Notre Dame.
Kyle Kensing is the Pac-12 Lead Writer for B/R. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.
Follow Kyle on Twitter: @kensing45.