The scene was something that Irish fans had been used to for the past eight years: rain, boo’s, and defeat.
Just this time, that scene was taking place in the Coliseum of Notre Dame’s elite rival, USC.
It may have not been the cleanest, most fundamentally sound football game ever played, but Notre Dame beat USC for the first time in eight years on Saturday night.
Traveling to the Coliseum as underdogs, and for the first time under Brian Kelly, the Irish defeated the Trojans, 20-16 in the closing minutes of the final quarter.
It looked too good to be true early, as the Irish quickly gave up their lead in the second half, only to lean on the back of Robert Hughes to pull out the victory on the final drive for the Irish.
It may have been against a USC team with 4 losses. A USC team looking to find an identity under a new head coach. A USC team spiraling into it’s own doom.
But despite those facts, Kelly and his team did something that the previous Irish teams have not done. They beat USC in more than one way.
Coming off a horrendous loss to Oregon State, Lane Kiffin had promised the Trojan “family” that the program would bounce back. He had promised to the fans, to the school, and most importantly, to the nation, that USC was not dying.
However, that promise may no longer be valid. Of course, the cupboard is plenty full with five and four-star talent looming on the depth charts for Kiffin and his staff. But then again, so are the restraints and bans put into effect by the NCAA themselves.
Don’t get the idea that the Trojans aren’t capable of competing—USC has tremendous talent.
They may, or may not, ever bounce back from Kiffin’s terrible first season at the helm. After all, this is USC were talking about—the football empire of this decade.
However, what some fail to realize is this is just year one of the NCAA violation effects. The actual effects of the hammer-down by the NCAA won’t be felt for another year or two to it’s full extent.
Effects from scholarship losses will be being felt and holes in the overall depth chart will begin to appear.
On the other side of the rivalry, Notre Dame still has plenty of questions, but one less after this weekend. You can cross “Beat USC” off Kelly’s evaluation sheet, Irish fans.
Notre Dame isn’t back by any means just yet. But they are on their way, thanks to Kelly keeping true to his promise of fielding a better football team in November (3-0) than in September (1-3).
With a defense that’s given up just two touchdowns in it’s previous four games and an offense that is learning how to win football games, the Irish head into post-season play with grins on their faces and the best 7-5 regular season record ever produced in South Bend.
USC, also sitting at 7-5, heads into postseason play in the opposite state of mind. With plenty of question marks left to be answered, the Trojans are now feeling the way Notre Dame has felt as of late: uncertain and deflated.
As one Trojan fan was correct to point out just hours after their latest loss, “The new Notre Dame has turned USC into the Notre Dame of old.