For Jimmy Clausen and the Fighting Irish, it doesn't get any bigger than this. The 2009 season will be defined by this game.
A win suggests Notre Dame is back, albeit with more to prove for the rest of the year. A win would seem to indicate that the Irish are on the same level, talent-wise, as the Trojans.
Yes, USC lost Brian Cushing, Rey Maualuga and Clay Matthews, a terrific trio of USC backers. Yes, they lost quarterback Mark Sanchez, who is taking the NFL world by storm.
Is this the best USC team ever? No. Is it the best USC team over the last three seasons? No.
But you have to crawl before you can walk, and Notre Dame hasn't walked in a long, long time.
They were close to knocking off the Trojans a few seasons ago, falling in the final seconds on the Reggie "Bush Push." That game will go down in Trojan and Irish lore as one of the best games in the history of the rivalry.
Clausen, at the time, was a can't-miss high school prospect in California. He was being recruited by, among others, Notre Dame and USC.
Clausen chose the Irish over the Trojans and instantly was tied in with Charlie Weis' tenure at Notre Dame. The pair would be forever connected as they tried to bring the Fighting Irish back.
Now is their chance.
If the Irish don't beat the Trojans this Saturday, it's feasible to believe they won't beat them for the next five or six years. Next year will be at the Coliseum, and USC will have a sophomore quarterback in Matt Barkley, who is already a high-caliber talent as a true freshman.
Many believed USC would struggle this year and lose a few games. One thing is for sure: USC will be in the title hunt this year, next year, the year after and so on and so on.
The Irish need this win to show the nation they can compete with the big boys. At this point in 2009, no one is sure if they can even beat Purdue, Michigan State and Washington-caliber teams.
For Jimmy Clausen, it's time to put up or shut up.
Clausen arrived in South Bend gloating about winning four national championships and riding in a stretch hummer limousine. His cockiness was more noticeable than the Golden Dome and his California swagger didn't sit well with everyone.
At the time, the Notre Dame community had blue-collar Midwestern players like Brady Quinn, Jeff Samardzija and Tommy Zbikowski. This California surfer had run his mouth and until now, really hasn't backed it up.
His freshman season, was, understandably, a learning curve and the 3-9 finish turned into one of the worst seasons in Fighting Irish history.
His sophomore season showed growth and maturation as he took the reigns of the Notre Dame offense and led the Golden Domers to their first bowl win in over a dozen years.
So far in his junior campaign, he has people talking about the Heisman trophy returning to South Bend. He is in the top-15 in passing yards and leads the nation in passing efficiency.
He has 12 touchdown passes against only two interceptions. He has also led his team to three fourth quarter come-from-behind wins, two of which were done on an injured foot.
For him to leave sunny southern California for the exciting social life only South Bend, Indiana can provide was a pretty big decision. Please note my sarcasm in that previous sentence.
There will be those who say Notre Dame has to win this game for their program to truly be on the way back to prominence. There are also those that will say Clausen's career at Notre Dame will be a failure if he can't deliver a win over the hated Trojans.
He has two chances left. On Saturday, he'll have Touchdown Jesus at his back.
The Irish have weapons in wideout Golden Tate, tight end Kyle Rudolph and running back Armando Allen. His offensive line is made up primarily of seniors.
If there was ever a chance to knock off the heavily-favored Trojans in your back yard, this is it.
Clausen's swagger will look much better if he can pull off this victory.
Notre Dame will have a Heisman finalist on their roster if he can.
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