Notre Dame-USC: Irish Need the Shillelagh, but Have the Trojans Grown Attached?

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Notre Dame-USC: Irish Need the Shillelagh, but Have the Trojans Grown Attached?
In five days the Notre Dame football team will confront their arch-nemesis USC and seek a victory which has eluded the Irish for far too long. It's been such a build up with both teams enjoying bye weeks coming into this weekend that I've had a hard time finding something to say about the matchup.
Needless to say, this is a huge game for Notre Dame. It's now a cold hard fact to many that if the Irish want respect, then they have to beat USC this Saturday. It's just that simple. Or is it?
Even though the prospects of defeating the Trojans are as good as they have been in some years, there is still a lingering feeling of certain defeat for the Irish, especially in the eyes of many fans. Losing every contest for almost an entire decade will do that to you.
That is not to say that I'm not hopeful or that Notre Dame can't win, but until there is a victory against USC I am helplessly cautious.
And let's be honest, USC is still really, really good. Sure, they lost to Washington but Barkley makes their offense 25 percent better and Mays makes the defense 25 percent better, if not even more. With those two in the lineup, USC would have taken down the Huskies.
Further, this is definitely a crossroads moment for Charlie Weis and there is more pressure than ever to win this game. Right now, I don't want to entertain the thoughts of what would happen if the Irish win Saturday. Those discussions should be saved until the shillelagh is back in South Bend.
But I have to ask: what is going to happen if Notre Dame loses again to USC?
Of course the usual crowd will be out for blood shouting that Notre Dame can't beat the top teams in college football, Weis never wins the big game and the program is terminally mediocre. However, unless there is another Trojan blow out, these concerns are less important to me than you would think.
The reason is two fold: First, as I've already stated, USC is a top program and when all is said and done they could be in the national championship picutre. In this way, losing to such a formidable opponent isn't as crushing as losing to Michigan, Nebraska, or even Ohio State or Penn State.
USC is still a top five team in my eyes until proven otherwise.
Secondly, even with a loss the Irish can show improvement and take positives away from how they performed. Remember it was only 10 months ago that Notre Dame lost to Syracuse and couldn't gain a first down against USC. As much as another loss to the Trojans would be deflating, I don't think it's fair to say all is lost if that does in fact occur.
I don't mean to sound pessimistic or concede defeat to USC before the game is even played, but I think it is important to be realistic here.
As much talent as there is on the Irish offense, the truth is that the Notre Dame defense is decidedly average, or worse. Which means more than likely Clausen and Co. will have to put up at least 30 points to stay in the game.
And since 2004, in over five years of football, USC has only given up 30 or more points three times (Oregon State 33 in 2006, Texas 38 in 2005, and Notre Dame 31 in 2005). Clearly, the Fighting Irish have their work cut out for them.
What I really want is to fight the urge to give up on the season or give up on Weis as head coach if USC is victorious Saturday. I'm not one of the Irish supporters who demands excellence RIGHT NOW or else proclaim all is lost if those lofty goals aren't met.
I want Notre Dame to win as bad as anyone but a loss to USC is not the end of the world. If it does happen, the Irish will need to pick themselves back up and march forward to a ten win regular season.
Maybe that will get Notre Dame into a BCS bowl and face an opponent outside of the top five in what would be an excellent measuring stick heading into the 2010 season. Even with a loss to USC, a record of 10-3 or 11-2 would be something special.
I guess what it boils down to for me is that I want to see progress in the form of a better Irish defense and wins against ranked teams in the future, except I still think beating USC is asking a bit much at this point.
Beating a ranked Pitt team, or defeating say, No. 12 Nebraska in a bowl game seem like more realistic steps for Notre Dame. What this means is that the Irish have to start beating good teams before taking down the great ones.
But you never do know what's going to happen on Saturday and I expect Notre Dame to give USC a good run for its money. But win or lose, let's keep things in perspective and hope this team shows enough progress to continue a successful season.
Other Thoughts:
*Do you think an impending Alabama-Florida SEC championship game is more exciting than the Super Bowl? I sure do.
*I was reading a blog that talked about how Notre Dame should switch to field turf because the natural grass is just too much of a mess. I think I agree with this after watching Clausen slip about ten times against Washington in early October.
And I'm not too crazy about them growing the grass to ridiculous lengths for the USC game either. As much speed as the Trojans have, they have a more distinct advantage in size and power on both lines. I'd rather see Notre Dame try and take advantage of their speed with guys like Allen, Tate, Rudolph, and Te'o.
*ESPN College Gameday is not in South Bend this weekend on a college campus, but instead will be in Dallas (and not on a college campus) for the Oklahoma-Texas game. I find this very dissapointing.
*Speaking of the Red River Shootout, I really want to see the Sooners win. I tabbed Texas to win the crystal ball this year but they've been lackluster against a seriously weak schedule and I just love to see chaos in the polls.
I still think there's something special about Colt McCoy but I'd love to see Oklahoma jump back into the top 10 with two losses and have everyone pulling their hair out. You just know that if OU wins the Big 12 they will be in the national championship discussion even if teams like Cincinnati or Boise State are still undefeated. Long live the BCS!
*Any chance we see the green jerseys for the Irish this weekend? It has been a while since they've worn them. What if it is a close game at half time and then Weis decided to go with the switch from blue to green? I'd say there's a 10 percent chance we see them at all.
*The odds went up that Tim Tebow will be bringing home his second Heisman after his Gators defeated LSU on Saturday night. Unless someone steps up big time (No. 7 on Notre Dame), Florida is going to keep on winning and Tebow will be the front runner. Did I mention a Florida-Alabama matchup yet? It's going to be epic.

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