Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly is one of the winningest active coaches in college football. This weekend, his Fighting Irish squad will square off with a USC team led by Ed Orgeron, who has one of the worst track records as a head coach.
While the coaching matchup looks like a mammoth mismatch, the two teams taking the field are in similar place this season—both the Irish and the Trojans sitting at 4-2 overall after disappointing starts. Both have been inconsistent, particularly at the quarterback position, and have shown signs of promise at times but have largely underachieved.
Often times, when teams are so evenly matched, the coach that can motivate his team to perform will come out on top.
So, Notre Dame has to be the heavy favorite, right?
In 22 seasons as a head coach, dating back to a very successful Division II stint at Grand Valley State, Kelly has amassed a record of 203-70-2 (the two ties came back at GVSU).
While at GVSU, Kelly won two D-II national titles, which earned him his first FBS job at Central Michigan. His first year coaching the Chippewas, they finished 4-7—his first and only season below .500 thus far. His official ND bio credits him as the fourth-winningest active FBS coach and adds that only Mack Brown of Texas and Oklahoma's Bob Stoops have more wins since 2001.
Orgeron's resume is pretty bare in comparison.
"Coach O" held just one head coaching job before taking over for Lane Kiffin this season in Los Angeles. He coached Ole Miss from 2005-2007 and didn't have a single winning season before he was fired.
When comparing Kelly's 21 seasons at .500 or above and Orgeron's zero, it's easy to pick which is the better coach on paper.
Which coach would you want leading your team?
However, off paper, Orgeron's appeal as a coach as blown up in recent weeks.
He won the support of USC fans and players before he even coached a single game. In his first week at the helm, he reopened practice to the media, returned desserts to the menu at team meals and started the first annual "Trojan Bowl" where starters coach and walk-ons and redshirts play a spirited scrimmage.
Right away, Orgeron showed that he is going to be a player's coach in this, his second chance to lead a program.
His players responded on the field in his first game. They jumped out to a 28-3 lead over Arizona before holding off a late Wildcats rally to win 38-31.
In the win, the Trojans beat their season averages by 138 yards and 10 points.
Kelly has even taken notice at what Orgeron has done at USC thus far, which he told the media this week (via UND.com):
Ed is a veteran football coach. He's been a head coach. He's certainly somebody that is familiar with all of his players. He's got them playing with a lot of energy, a lot of enthusiasm, and we're excited about Notre Dame USC.
While USC has so far impressed under the leadership of Orgeron, Notre Dame has been more of a disappointment this season.
The last three Irish wins all have come by just one possession, while losses to Oklahoma and Michigan each came by two possessions.
ND hasn't been particularly great at anything and has no definitive identity. The Irish aren't dominant while passing, running or on even defense, which was their forte a year ago.
At home, Notre Dame will be a slight favorite. On the surface, it seems like an experienced coach like Kelly would be able to guide his team over an interim coach in a close contest.
However, things aren't always what they seem, especially in rivalry games like the one between Notre Dame and USC.
So don't be surprised if Orgeron pulls off the coaching upset in South Bend.