As Judgement Day nears, a full six-pack of potential outcomes await. The USC game will be one of the defining moments of the 2009 season and could very well determine the future of Charlie Weis and the Notre Dame football program. Here’s a look at six possible game results and the very different repercussions that should follow each conclusion.
With two weeks to prepare, Coach Weis puts in a three-pronged attack that includes an Armando Allen-led Wildcat offense, the typical Jimmy Clausen aerial attack, and the byproduct of the Allen/Clausen diversty—a run-game.
In perfect cohesion, the Irish deep threat keeps the hard-hitting Taylor Mays and Will Harris out of the box. Allen and Golden Tate spread the field horizontally with the Wildcat keeping the self-proclaimed “No Name Linebacker Corps” of SC moving sideline to sideline. Finally, the gaps open for Allen, Robert Hughes, and Jonas Gray to get downhill for over 150 yards rushing.
Defensively, the Irish front line continues to mature and a gimpy Joe McNight struggles to get on track. Manti Te’o, Darius Fleming, and Brian Smith get their Tenuta-time in the backfield and a hurried Matt Barkley looks every bit the freshman quarterback.
Clausen goes over 300, Allen tops 100, and the Irish win big, 38-17.
The repercussions will be obvious. The bromance hug between Weis and Clausen covers Sports Illustrated and the Irish are celebrated for their first legit win since the Purdue game in September of 2006. Clausen becomes the front-runner for the Heisman and Tate exceeds Rocket Ismail-like hype because of his diversity.
All is well in South Bend.
A Ten-Point ND Win
USC starts slow, humbled by the long flight and the South Bend atmosphere. Once again the ever-popular “Pete Carroll didn’t prepare us” theory applies as the Irish hold the halftime edge. Barkley, McKnight, and Damian Williams get on track in the second half and wear down the still-too-young-for-primetime Irish defense
The young and emotional Notre Dame defense shows its weakness after the break. Te’o blows a few coverage assignments, Darrin Walls struggles to contain David Ausberry and Williams, and McNight’s speed is too much.
But the fourth quarter is Jimmy time and nobody, but nobody, circles the wagons better than Captain Clausen.
The Irish out-last USC and pull out an impressive 31-21 win.
This should be considered the most desired result. A blowout could be dismissed as another USC “let-down” game and nothing short of an enigma, wrapped in the same mystery of Oregon State and Washington losses.
A game in which the ND defense plays well, but not stellar, proves that the Irish have gained on the Trojans in talent level and speed. Weis looks good schematically, ND has a signature win, and Carroll's boys prove they are talented, competitive, but one year away/removed from the national championship conversation.
ND By A Field Goal
It’s a heavyweight fight. Every “head” from Brando to Beano gush at the speed of McKnight, Williams, Tate, and Allen. Every “head” from Corso to Kiper drool at the hitting of Mays, Galippo, and the ND Smith family.
For four quarters it’s a who’s who of five-star recruits with cannon Clausen hitting uncoverable Rudolph and the talented USC "Stable" running behind an offensive line of future Sunday stars.
Enter Nick Tausch.
Ten out of his last 11, Tausch hits three big second half field goals, including the game-winner with seconds left, sending the Irish faithful into a delirium that rivals the celebration of an Arthur Guinness happy hour.
The repercussions are shockingly minimal for USC. Every media outlet runs clips of Jake Locker and the UW field goal and simply points out that they are under-achievers who out-talent their opponent but can’t get it done in the trenches.
The repercussions are surprisingly minimal for ND. Every media outlet runs clips of Jake Locker, the UW field goal against USC, and all the “Luck of the Irish” Clausen comebacks over the past five weeks. Mark May claims that divine intervention, not superior innovation, is at work in South Bend.
According to the ever-hating May, nothing is lost but little is gained.
According to father Lou Holtz, vindication is served.
USC By A Field Goal
The Irish hang in there for 55 minutes but they wade too far into the deep end. Every fighter has his final round and the Irish find theirs on the last USC drive of the game.
Barkley has his Forcier moment and Notre Dame falls, 27-24.
In the most shocking revelation of the day, Mark May gives the Irish credit for a Rocky-like effort. Apollo never knocks out Rocko.
As crazy as it sounds, this just could be the third most desired result. A close loss means street cred. A close loss means they are two or three plays away from beating a top-ten team. A close loss means that Weis did everything he could do to balance a slight difference in talent level with inspiration and ingenuity.
May and the college football world applaud the Irish and a wealth of good will push ND forward into a six-win second half.
A Ten-Point USC Win
The Trojans jump out early, maintain their lead, and take a definitive victory out of Notre Dame Stadium.
The difference is defense. As athletic as we all thought ND was we are reminded that the Irish compete against the plow-horses of the Big 10 and the all-heart, modest-talents from Annapolis and Chestnut Hill.
The home crowd pushes ND forward and the USC offense, which continues to struggle to find their groove in 2009, can't put up big numbers. But as usual, it’s enough. Trojans 30, Irish 20.
The repercussions are atypically destructive. An under-achieving USC offense, led by a not-yet-dynamic frosh QB, and playing without big name linebackers, Stefon Johnson, or the offensive masterminds of Steve Sarkisian or Norm Chow, STILL go into Indiana and win.
Coach Weis has to start using his bazillion dollar salary to buy up billboard space in South Bend as a preemptive strike. Joe M. and Joe T. hold a press conference to discuss a buyout. The Linebacker Club threatens a hostile takeover. Lou Holtz starts to see if he can pronounce “inferiority.”
No long story here. Talent and speed beats mediocrity and slothfulness.
The talent gap is still profound, the Irish defense can’t stop Williams. Barkley gains his manhood and McKnight proves that he would be a Heisman front-runner if he didn’t have to give up carries to every five-star halfback living in Los Angeles.
The Trojans win by 30.
Three South Bend selectmen give Pete Carroll a key to the city.
Charlie Weis starts his walk down the Green Mile.
As Kevin would say on “Shark Tank,” you’re dead to me Charlie Weis.