The Trojans of Southern California march into South Bend on Saturday to take on Charlie Weis and his Fighting Irish.
However, this USC week has much more on the line than any before.
Weis has put all of his marbles into one bag this week, including the one that reads "My Future."
The buzz around campus has reached a season-high as students are in the process of planning a green out and the leprechaun is going door to door to rally his troops.
But somewhere, Charlie Weis is sitting in his office thinking about how he is going to pull this one off.
History says that the Irish will suffer their annual blowout loss to Pete Carroll's on-field powerhouse. However, listening to Weis and the talk on campus has some people thinking differently.
"Once again, I'm going reiterate it, I mean, they understand the talent level who they're going against, but I'd say, you know, this is probably the first time since I've been here where the players really believe they're going to win. You know, they might be in the minority, but they certainly believe that."—(Weis in his most recent press conference.)
To be brief—Weis has been terrible against Top 25 opponents since he arrived at Notre Dame. Against teams finishing in the polls at season's end, Weis is 1-13 (.71 winning percentage).
In comparison, Weis is 19-2 (.905) against teams finishing with losing records.
Imagine what an upset victory of the Trojans would do for such a weak resume of a coach on the hot seat.
What does a victory mean for Weis?
With the Trojans coming in ranked in the top 10 and the Irish sitting at a respectable 4-1, Oct. 17th is setting up perfectly for Weis.
Even after being outscored 76-3 in the previous two meetings, Notre Dame has a hint of hope left this weekend.
Playing at home, coming off a bye week, and facing a Trojan team with a true-freshman quarterback, the Irish seem to have more advantages than usual against the Trojans.
After calling out the voters for not putting his team in the polls, Weis got his wish when he found his team sneaking in after their bye week.
Now ranked, the Irish have a chance to make noise this week and give Weis something he still hasn't gotten into his fifth year with the program—a signature win.
A case could be made that his upset road-win of then No. 3 Michigan in '05 could be given that label. However, that team finished without a number in front of their name and with a disappointing record of 7-5.
Still dreaming of a victory over a top five opponent or a BCS game victory, Weis has a chance to stop dreaming and start accomplishing this weekend.
With a win, Weis would get his signature win along with many other momentum-gainers.
First, he would have job security that would assure him at least another year in South Bend.
For many Notre Dame fans (especially after the "Bush Push" of '05), beating USC is top on their list for season goals. You can bet that the entire Notre Dame community, including AD Jack Swarbick, would have Weis's back after a victory this weekend.
Winning this game would quiet Charlie's biggest critics and put the billboard companies out of business.
And finally coming out on top against a top-ranked opponent would show that the talent Weis has recruited has been developed, something he has been publicly accused of not doing during his college coaching career.
The Notre Dame community would have a renewed sense of faith in its football team and its coach, if their team could manage to win this game.
If Notre Dame falls short, the critics will continue to love to hate Charlie Weis and his football team. The anti-Weis billboards might turn into magazine advertisements or even commercials.
Weis won't have another chance this season to get that signature win and might have to wait until next year's USC rematch in order for another shot.
While not an absolute must-win in terms of his job, this might be an absolute must-win in terms of the program.
To say this week's game for Notre Dame is important for Notre Dame is an understatement.
It means success or failure in a variety of different levels for Notre Dame football.
How can it be done?
Unlike last year, the Irish have a formidable offensive line, an average running game, and one of the best passing offenses in the country (even without injured Michael Floyd).
After struggling to get a first-down until the end of the third quarter last season, Notre Dame will almost certainly get their yards in this year's faceoff.
Luckily for Weis, he has one of the best quarterbacks in the nation under center.
Jimmy Clausen will throw and the receivers will get their yards. However, the offensive line will decide the fate of the Irish.
If tackles Paul Duncan and Sam Young can hold off the dangerous Trojan defensive ends and give Clausen enough time, he will have yet another Heisman-esque game.
If they don't supply protection, Clausen will be scrambling on his injured toe all day, which will lead to interceptions, sacks, and disappointed and angry faces in the stands.
Not only will the offensive line be protecting the life of their prized quarterback, but they will tell the tale of the running game.
If Notre Dame can get solid production from their running backs, they will throw a two-dimensional offense at the USC defense that will be hard for even them to stop. Getting fullback James Aldridge back in order to block for the likes of Armando Allen and Robert Hughes will be very helpful for the Irish.
The running game will also help do something that is essential for the Irish to win—keep the defense off the field. The defense has struggled in most games this season, even with a solid performance two weeks ago against the Huskies.
If Notre Dame wants to pull of the upset, the Irish defense needs to limit the Trojan offense, and Clausen's offense needs to be clicking.
However, one could argue that Xs and Os are secondary to emotional strategy this week.
Besides Xs and Os talk of this game, there are a few things that Weis absolutely MUST have in his locker room—confidence, heart, and passion. Notre Dame must think that they can win and must play confidently in order to do so.
Weis must get his team thinking that they are not a underdog or have less talent, but rather on the same level of the "superior" Trojans.
There have been knocks on him for not displaying his leadership qualities on and off the field, so this is yet another chance to prove critics wrong.
Although the Irish sit at 4-1 and find themselves ranked, the team knows that their season will be judged against the Trojans.
Win, and find the Irish in the top 20 with a very good chance at a return to a BCS game.
Lose, and find the Irish out of the polls and Weis on a very hot seat.
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