To be the best, you have to beat the best. While USC may not be the best college football has to offer this year, they are certainly close.
In the 2000s, not many teams can lay claim to what USC can.
Five Rose Bowl appearances, four Rose Bowl wins, three Heisman winners, two national championships...I could write a book on their accomplishments in this decade.
If you want to know the story of the 2009 Fighting Irish, you may just need to know what happens on Oct. 17, when the Irish host the Trojans.
Sure, 11 other games are scheduled, but unless the Irish can knock off the Trojans for the first time since 2001, the majority of college football fans will dismiss the Irish.
Really, can you blame them?
It has been a one-sided affair this decade with the greatest intersectional rivalry in all of college football.
To say that USC has dominated the Irish wouldn't do justice. The Trojans have won the last seven meetings, with an average score of 40-13 in favor of the Trojans.
Notre Dame has only been close once—but I don't want to relive that 2005 game at the moment.
The pure speed and athleticism of the Trojans—once on par with the Irish—has been far superior to anything Notre Dame has had. USC has been producing All-Americans at an alarming rate, and the NFL is looking more and more like a USC reunion party.
Notre Dame has what appears to be a favorable schedule in 2009, with some believing the Irish can even win double-digit games.
Nevada, Purdue, Washington, Washington State, Navy, Connecticut, and Stanford figure to be seven victories for the Irish, but let's not get ahead of ourselves. I don't need to remind everyone of last year's San Diego State game, do I?
USC is without question the most talented and experienced team the Irish will face in 2009. Some will say the Trojans are down because they lost so many key players from last year's Rose Bowl champion team.
But everyone knows that the elite programs, like USC, simply re-load every year. Make no mistake about it, the Trojans will be stacked yet again.
The Irish, having their best squad assembled in several years, may be able to match the Trojans in some key areas, but only time will tell how the speed and athleticism of the Irish can hold up.
Having the game in South Bend will certainly help, as will having the experience of third-year starter Jimmy Clausen at quarterback.
Clausen, a native of California who was heavily recruited by many teams, including USC, will have the spotlight on him for each and every snap he takes this year for the Irish.
The USC game can be his coming out party—or another chapter in Irish football futility.
In Brady Quinn's junior year of 2005, the Irish almost took down the No. 1 ranked Trojans. In that game, Quinn was incredible.
The future Heisman Trophy finalist completed 19 of 35 passes for 264 yards and a touchdown. Quinn also ran in another score, which would have been the game winner except for...well, you know.
While no one can reasonably expect Clausen to duplicate the kind of season Quinn had, something in the neighborhood would be nice, especially if Clausen can perform well against the Trojans.
Looking at the skill positions that Notre Dame will feature, it is conceivable to think that the Irish can play with the Trojans and keep it a fast-paced game.
Golden Tate, Michael Floyd, Armando Allen, and friends can potentially be matchup-nightmares for the Trojans—or any team on the schedule.
The real issue could be the Irish defense, which will be in charge of keeping the future NFL-talent on the Southern Cal roster in front of them—easier said than done.
One thing is for sure: this game will show the nation just where Notre Dame stands. Beating the Nevadas and Washingtons only gets you so far.
Charlie Weis can recruit all he wants, he can boast or complain all he wants, but if he can't beat the Trojans, then the "Charlie Weis Watch" will begin yet again, and talks of replacing him will reach new levels.
I hope Clausen and Weis realize the importance of this season, and this game—their careers at Notre Dame will be forever linked, and this game could make a lasting impression for both individuals.
See you Oct. 17.