Notre Dame vs. USC: The Best 25 Games in the Rivalry
The Notre Dame Fighting Irish rivalry with the USC Trojans may be the greatest in college football and certainly is the greatest intersectional one.
Notre Dame and USC are among the most elite football programs; both schools combined have produced more national titles (21), Heisman Trophy winners (14), All-Americans, College Football Hall of Famers and NFL Hall of Famers than any other collegiate series.
Both colleges are also in the top 25 best colleges by U.S. News & World Report academic rankings.
The one thing that makes the Notre Dame-USC rivalry so special is that it is not required. The schools are not in the same conference, nor are they in the same state, and there are no regional or conference prerogatives that compel the game.
Unlike many longtime rivalries, there is mutual respect between the teams, coaches and most fans.
Both teams have spoiled the other’s title hopes 14 times. But, they keep playing because each program desires to take on the best.
It is not surprising USC is the only college that always plays BCS schools and has never played a Division I-AA college, as is the case with Notre Dame (USC’s crosstown rival UCLA is the only other college with this distinction).
USC sought out Notre Dame because it was looking for a tough rival to play; at the same time, Big Ten schools were looking not to play Notre Dame.
The two teams have played every year since 1926 except three years during WWII when travel was limited. Notre Dame leads the series 43-33-5 (2005 game was vacated), thanks to several winning periods (the 1940s, 1950s and 1980s were the most dominant).
There have been very exciting games during this time with comebacks, upsets, close scores and national title implications.
Here is an attempt to identify the 25 best games in the Notre Dame-USC rivalry.
P.S. You may also enjoy this ranking of the Top 50 Trojan players in history.
25. 1936 at Los Angeles: USC 13, Notre Dame 13
Notre Dame had 19 first downs and USC only one, which came on a penalty. The Irish also had 411 yards to 137 for the Trojans.
But the deciding factor in this game was alertness.
USC was trailing 6-0 at the start of the second quarter, and it appeared they were stopped on their own 40. Sophomore quarterback Ambrose Schindler was tackled, but just before he fell, he lateraled to Dick Berryman, who raced 60 yards for the tying touchdown.
Then Notre Dame marched from its own 25 to the Trojan 9. Bob Wilke passed to Andy Puplis at the goal line, but USC’s Howard Langley intercepted at the 1 and raced 99 yards for a touchdown.
Langley got some help when Notre Dame’s Larry Danbom, the only player with a chance to stop him, was accidentally blocked out of the play by a referee who became tangled up with him while trying to get out of the way.
The extra point made it 13-6 before the Irish salvaged a tie.
24. 2002 at Los Angeles: USC 44, Notre Dame 13
USC QB Carson Palmer celebrates TD in second half
This game put USC on the national level again after a decade-long absence from the elite ranks.
The Trojans had not played in such an important game since the 1988 loss to the Irish.
Notre Dame briefly took a 13-10 lead, but USC quarterback Carson Palmer led the Trojans on a 75-yard drive in just a little more than a minute. Mike Williams caught a 19-yard touchdown pass that sailed over the outstretched hands of two Irish defenders.
The Trojans had a 17-13 halftime lead and never looked back. USC's 44 points were the most against the Irish by a USC team since the 55-24 comeback victory in 1974.
Palmer threw for 425 yards and four touchdowns—then the Notre Dame opponent record. He also led the Trojans' offense to 610 total yards, the most yards ever against the Irish.
The game culminated USC's most successful season since 1979.
23. 1971 at South Bend: USC 28, Notre Dame 14
USC Song Girls and Band
USC was 2-4, and Notre Dame was 5-0 hoping for a National Championship. Notre Dame was a 21-point favorite.
But USC unleashed a first-half blitz and led 28-7.
Edesel Garrison, a world-class quarter-miler, caught two passes for touchdowns, then fullback Sam Cunningham scored from the one. Bruce Dyer intercepted a pass and returned it 53 yards for the final score.
Dyer set up the first Garrison touchdown with another interception. Garrison beat Clarence Ellis deep and quarterback Jimmy Jones completed the 31-yard toss at the goal line.
A 66-yard kickoff return set up Notre Dame’s tying touchdown.
Mike Rae replaced Jones and hit Garrison for 24 yards to make it 14-7. Jones came back in and hit Garrison for 42 yards to set up Cunningham’s dive.
The Irish took to the air, but Dyer sealed their fate with the interception that made it 28-7. The game was over at this point, although Notre Dame scored another touchdown.
22. 1928 at Los Angeles: USC 27, Notre Dame 14
USC Coach Howard Jones
USC coach Howard Jones assembled a powerhouse, and it breezed through most of the season, including a 10-0 win over its nemesis, Pop Warner’s Stanford. West Coast fans wanted to see the Trojans beat the Fighting Irish, and weeks before the game, they bought all the seats in the Los Angeles Coliseum.
Knute Rockne brought his worst team (5-4), and Jones whipped him 27-14 to wrap up USC’s first National Championship season.
It was the first time USC beat Notre Dame; the Irish won the previous two USC games by one point due to missed extra points.
Notre Dame boosters soon intensified their outrage about the “Failing Irish.”
21. 1967 at South Bend: USC 24, Notre Dame 7
USC Coach John McKay and Notre Dame Coach Ara Parseghian after the game
Undefeated USC, rated No. 1 nationally, was a 12-point underdog.
The Irish took a 7-0 lead in the first half.
Three times USC’s Matthew Adrian Young, born in Ireland, stopped Irish scoring threats inside the 12-yard line by intercepting passes.
O.J. Simpson gained 150 yards in 38 rushes, including bowling over three huge Notre Dame linemen from the one for his first score. He also swept for 35 yards in the third period for his second score and added a three-yard touchdown in the fourth.
The game was delayed six minutes because John McKay refused to take the field first. Two years earlier, Notre Dame had kept USC waiting on the field in the rain for 15 minutes.
The victory solidified USC's place atop of the final rankings.
The sportswriters noted that going into this 39th meeting, the winner had ended up as the National Champion in somebody’s poll 14 times, so they dubbed the game “The Poll Bowl.”
The win also marked USC's first win in South Bend since 1939.
20. 1946 at South Bend: Notre Dame 26, USC 6
Notre Dame vs. USC - 1946, 1947, 1948
Both teams were undefeated, but Notre Dame was No. 2 and USC was No. 16.
The Irish clinched the first of two straight national titles by romping past USC 26-6 at Notre Dame Stadium.
The video includes highlights of this game together with the 1947 and 1948 games.
19. 1988 at Los Angeles: Notre Dame 27, USC 10
No. 1 Notre Dame vs. No. 2 USC 1988
Both teams entered the game undefeated and ranked Nos. 1 and 2 respectively for the first time in the rivalry. The sellout crowd of 93,829 was the largest in this rivalry since 1955.
Coach Holtz suspended stars Ricky Watters and Tony Brooks for disciplinary reasons, so they didn’t come on the trip.
USC’s standout quarterback Rodney Peete was bested this time by the Notre Dame defense.
Notre Dame went on to capture the National Championship that year, beating West Virginia in the Fiesta Bowl.
18. 1986 at Los Angeles: Notre Dame 38, USC 37
Tim Brown's 56-yard punt return set up the winning FG
Lou Holtz's first foray into the Notre Dame-USC rivalry was a successful one, as the Irish rallied back from a 20-9 halftime deficit.
They trailed 30-12 early in the third quarter before Steve Beuerlein started hitting his stride.
He hit Braxston Banks with a 22-yard TD pass, Milt Jackson for 43 yards and Banks for five yards to cut it to 37-35.
There was some officiating controversy, as USC appeared to have a first down on a 4th-and-1 play deep in Notre Dame territory while leading 37-35. But the officials did not award forward progress, then hastily flagged USC QB Rodney Peete for unsportsmanlike conduct when he threw his arms up in disgust at where the ball was marked.
Tim Brown's 56-yard punt return then put John Carney in position to cap the comeback with a 19-yard field goal with two seconds left.
It wasn't enough to prevent a losing season, as Notre Dame finished 5-6, but this game marked a turning point in the program and led to the team's 1988 National Championship.
It was also a breakout game for Brown, a future Heisman Trophy winner.
Here are video highlights of the game.
17. 1989 at South Bend: Notre Dame 28, USC 24
Notre Dame was ranked No. 1 with an 18-game winning streak. However, No. 9 USC wasn’t afraid of the Irish.
In one of the few classless acts in this series, Notre Dame’s players lined up in the end zone and blocked the Trojans from taking the field. This resulted in a full-scale brawl.
Once the game started, USC’s quarterback Todd Marinovich was hot, and the Trojans took control during the first half leading 17-7.
Notre Dame quarterback Tony Rice brought the Irish back and ran for the winning score on a keeper with just more than five minutes left in the game. He completed a deep pass to Rocket Ismail to set up the score.
The Irish defense held off the Trojans, aided by another questionable spot of the ball (as in 1986) that cost USC a first down at a critical moment.
Marinovich attempted a Hail Mary pass attempt, but it was batted down. He completed 33 of 55 passes during the game.
Here are video highlights of the game.
16. 1978 at Los Angeles: USC 27, Notre Dame 25
Notre Dame had an 8-2 record after winning eight straight and was headed to the Cotton Bowl.
USC dominated for three quarters leading 24-6.
Irish quarterback Joe Montana got hot in the fourth quarter and led a comeback. Montana connected with Kris Haines for a 57-yard touchdown pass, then led a 98-yard drive ending with a one-yard Pete Buchanan touchdown run with three minutes to play.
The Irish defense held and gave Montana the ball with 1:35 to play and the ball on the Irish 43. Again Montana completed a drive with a two-yard scoring pass to Pete Holohan with 45 seconds, but the Irish missed a two-point conversion attempt which was critical.
USC QB Paul McDonald got the ball with 40 seconds left on the Trojan 30. After a short pass, he was hit and lost the ball. Notre Dame recovered, but the officials ruled it incomplete. McDonald took advantage of this by completing a 35-yard pass to Calvin Sweeney with 19 seconds left.
The Trojans completed the 50-yard drive in four plays to get in field goal position, and Frank Jordan drilled the 37-yard game-winner with four seconds left. He had missed a 20-yard attempt a few minutes earlier.
USC beat Michigan in the Rose Bowl to share the national title with Alabama, who the Trojans beat 24-14 earlier in the season.
15. 1929 at Chicago: Notre Dame 13, USC 12
Knute Rockne told Grantland Rice, “Pop Warner wrote me that they [USC] have three wonderful teams, one as good as the other, and I don’t see how they can be beaten.” He was determined to find a way.
USC had won 10 games, including a 76-0 thrashing of UCLA and a victory over Stanford.
The crowd was listed at 112,192, but reported at the time to be at least 120,000. They came to see if USC could repeat their previous year’s triumph. This game played at Soldier field has the second-largest verified attendance in the history of NCAA football.
It was advertised as the finest Notre Dame team in five years versus the highest-scoring team in the nation.
The halftime score was 6-6. The Trojans scored on the second play on a pass from Marshall Duffield to Marger Apsit, and the Irish soon tied it on a pass from Jack Elder to Tom Conley.
Rockne, who was in a wheelchair behind the bench because of a leg ailment, gave a stirring locker room oration. He said, “Go on out there, go on out there, and play ‘em off their feet in the first five minutes. Go on out there, play ‘em off their feet in the first five minutes. Go on out there, play ‘em off their feet in the first five minutes. They don’t like it. Play ‘em, play ‘em. They don’t like it. Come on boys. Rock’s watching.”
Six minutes later Joe Savoldi plunged over for a touchdown, and Frank Carideo kicked the extra point.
A 95-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by USC’s Russ Saunders went for naught when the Trojans missed the conversion.
Again, it ended with a single point’s difference, 13-12 Notre Dame.
Notre Dame played two more games and finished 9-0 for its second National Championship, but USC’s record was 10-2 and some national ratings had the Trojans as the best.
14. 1952 at South Bend: Notre Dame 9, USC 0
Notre Dame - USC Trophy: Jeweled Shillelagh introduced in 1952
The Notre Dame Alumni Club of Los Angeles introduced the Jeweled Shillelagh as the trophy for the winner of the Notre Dame–USC game in 1952. The trophy is a classic cudgel made of Irish wood that’s been covered with the jeweled logo (emerald shamrocks for Notre Dame, ruby Trojan heads for USC) of the winning team each year. The medallions date back to 1926.
Coach Jess Hill’s Trojans had won nine games since a 19-12 loss to the Irish in the last game of 1951. They were ranked No. 2 behind Michigan State and favored over the Irish who were 6-2-1.
USC’s 164-pound Jim Sears, an outstanding punt returner this season, attempted to lateral a punt to Al Carmichael, but they missed connections, and Notre Dame recovered at the USC 19.
Johnny Lattner scored a one-foot touchdown on fourth down in the second period, but Bob Arrix missed the extra point. Notre Dame used a "sucker shift" to pull USC offsides at the Trojans' nine before the go-ahead score.
In the third quarter, Arrix connected on a 17-yard field goal. The Irish defense held on the one-inch line to thwart the Trojans who committed five interceptions.
This game was played in sub-freezing temperatures, and the Trojans clearly were not used to it. This led to a schedule change so that future South Bend games were in October, while Los Angeles games would continue to be in the late fall.
13. 1938 at Los Angeles: USC 13, Notre Dame 0
Los Angeles Times reports
Notre Dame had an 11-game winning streak under Coach Elmer Layden, one of Rockne’s immortal "Four Horsemen." USC had never beaten a Layden team.
Notre Dame was ranked No. 1, and USC was No. 8 with a 7-2 record.
A tactical error by Notre Dame just before the half paved the way for USC.
The game was scoreless with only 35 seconds left. The Irish had the ball on fourth down with 23 to go on their own 30. Quarterback Steve Sitko decided to gamble instead of punt. He called a pass by Bob Sauggau, who faked the pass and ran, but gained only seven yards.
Ollie Day replaced William Anderson when USC was on Notre Dame’s 37. He then passed to Al Krueger for a touchdown with almost no time left.
Early in the fourth quarter, USC’s James Jones recovered a Notre Dame fumble at the Irish 35, and Anderson scored on a short run to make it 13-0.
Notre Dame was outclassed in almost every way except for a few moments in the fourth quarter. The victory resulted in USC’s selection as the Rose Bowl representative. Notre Dame fell to the No. 5 ranking the following week, but still were named National Champions by the Dickinson System.
12. 1966 at Los Angeles: Notre Dame 51, USC 0
Notre Dame's Alan Page putting pressure on the USC QB
Undefeated Notre Dame just had a controversial 10-10 tie with Michigan State and needed to strongly beat USC to impress voters enough to win the national title.
Backup quarterback Coley O'Brien made the most of his only college start; he came off the bench the previous week after Terry Hanratty was injured.
O’Brien completed 21-of-31 passes for 255 yards and three touchdowns.
Receiver Jim Seymour scored two touchdowns and caught 11 passes. Larry Conjar and Nick Eddy ran through the Trojans' defense. Dave Martin and Tom Schoen each returned interceptions for touchdowns.
It is the worst defeat in Trojans history. Some of the Los Angeles newsprint included, “USC made lots of mistakes, not the least of which was showing up. To show you how bad things were its mascot quit in the third quarter.”
It was rumored that coach John McKay vowed never to lose to Notre Dame again, and it wasn’t until 1973 that the Irish won again.
Here are video highlights of the game.
11. 1927 at Chicago: Notre Dame 7, USC 6
1927 dinner with the players before the game; standing left to right: Glenn Pop Warner, Babe Ruth, Knute Rockne, Christy Walsh, Lou Gehrig, Howard Jones, Tad Joneses
The second Notre Dame–USC game was played at Soldier Field in Chicago. Notre Dame was 6-1-1 and USC was 7-0-1 when they played before an estimated record crowd of 123,000, although the Chicago Tribune reported it as 117,000.
Walter Eckersall, a nationally-acclaimed college football expert, called it, “the greatest intersectional football game ever played in this country.”
The 1927 game marked USC’s first trip east of the Rockies.
When the game was first announced for Soldier Field in Chicago, no one thought it was possible to fill more than 100,000 seats. So Rockne invited all the Big Ten coaches and their squads to the game because their seasons were over by the Nov. 26 date. They ended up in the pillars of the structure on each side of the field because ticket requests came pouring in.
Morley Drury drove the Trojans straight down the field and passed to Russ Saunders for a 15-yard touchdown. But the field was wet, and Drury kicked if off the side of his foot. Even though he was a great player, Drury had the heartbreaking distinction of missing two kicks in two years that cost his team two defeats at the hands of the Irish.
Notre Dame came back and scored on a 25-yard pass from Charlie Riley to Bucky Dahman, and Dahman kicked the extra point that won the game.
According to Times writer Dyer, “Drury’s pass, intended for Lowry McCaslin, was intercepted by Riley near his goal line. The Notre Dame quarterback ran three or four steps with the ball under his arm, and then was hit a crashing tackle by Saunders. The ball bounded into the end zone, was touched by a couple of Trojans and finally went through the end zone, out of bounds. Officials ruled it an incomplete pass, claiming that Riley never had possession or control. Believe me, he did. Bob Zuppke, famed Illinois coach, a spectator at the game, said at the time that the decision was a bad one. Other critics agreed, but, of course, the score stood. It all added color to the series.”
10. 1968 at Los Angeles: USC 21, Notre Dame 21
USC was No. 1 and 9-0 behind eventual Heisman Trophy winner O.J. Simpson, and the Irish were 7-2.
This game was one of the most viewed in college football history, surpassing even the 1966 Notre Dame–Michigan State game.
Terry Hanratty was injured, so Joe Theismann started at quarterback. He threw an interception on the first pay of the game, and USC’s Sandy Durko returned it for a touchdown.
This was not what Notre Dame fans wanted to see, but it didn’t bother Theismann, who led the Irish to a 21-7 halftime lead. The last touchdown came when Theismann pitched back to Coley O’Brien (1966 Irish quarterback) playing halfback, who tossed it back to Theismann.
When the half ended, Simpson had 23 yards, and the Irish gained 324 yards to the Trojans' 71.
The Trojans scored twice in the second half to tie the score, including a Simpson one-yard run after a 65-yard drive and a Steve Sogge 40-yard bomb that Sam Dickerson caught on the dead run over two defenders in the end zone.
Simpson was limited to 55 rushing yards, which was his lowest of the season, and Notre Dame missed two field goal attempts.
The Irish ended up No. 5 with a 7-2-1 record, while the Trojans lost to eventual National Champion Ohio State in the Rose Bowl.
9. 1999 at South Bend: Notre Dame 25, USC 24
1999 Notre Dame vs. USC Highlights
Twenty-five years after USC staged “The Comeback”, Notre Dame got a little revenge with the biggest comeback in Irish history.
Notre Dame was trailing 24-3 in the third quarter, and the luck of the Irish was evident for the rest of the game.
The Irish had the wind at their backs in both the third and fourth quarters; this helped Irish kickers with field position and field goal attempts.
But the luckiest play was the winning score by tight end Jabari Holloway, who recovered Jarious Jackson’s fumble in the end zone with 2:40 remaining over many Trojans in the area.
It was the first time since 1996 that Notre Dame beat USC.
8. 1970 at Los Angeles: USC 38, Notre Dame 28
1970 USC vs Notre Dame ticket
Notre Dame was 9-0 and ranked No. 2; USC was 5-4-1.
Senior Joe Theismann drove 80 yards for a touchdown on the opening series, but USC’s tailback Clarence Davis scored after the Irish touchdown.
The Trojans then took the lead after stopping the Irish when quarterback Jimmy Jones found Sam Dickerson for a 45-yard touchdown.
USC managed to take a 24-14 halftime lead.
But the Irish fumbled away the game in the second half by losing the ball twice, once in their own end zone. .
Theismann set a still-standing school record of 526 passing yards in the losing effort, but he had four interceptions and fumbled in the end zone.
7. 1964 at Los Angeles: USC 20, Notre Dame 17
Notre Dame head coach Ara Parseghian reacts to the upset loss
Notre Dame was undefeated, ranked No. 1 and an 11-point favorite when facing a 6-3 unranked USC team.
This was Ara Parseghian’s first season, and he was turning around the Notre Dame program that was 2-7 the year before.
Eventual Heisman Trophy winner John Huarte led the Irish to a 17-0 lead at halftime.
An optimistic John McKay told his team, “If we can score the first time we get the ball in the second half, it’s a brand new ball game.” The Trojans struck for 68 yards to make it 17-7.
Notre Dame then marched to the USC nine, but Huarte fumbled.
The Trojans couldn’t move and gave the ball back to the Irish. This time fullback Joe Kantor scored, but the touchdown was nullified by a holding penalty.
In the fourth quarter, USC’s Craig Fertig, who completed 10-of-14 passes in the second half for 150 yards, found Fred Hill for a 23-yard touchdown toss to cap an 88-yard drive to make it 17-13.
Hill and Rod Sherman made diving catches, and halfback Mike Garrett bounced off Notre Dame tacklers during the drive.
With four and a half minutes left, Parseghian decided to eat up the clock, but the Trojans held on downs and got the ball back on the Notre Dame 40.
A run failed and two passes fell incomplete. On fourth down Fertig was chased by Irish blitzers, but unloaded a bomb intended for Sherman, who caught the pass over his shoulder in the end zone.
Huarte threw an interception after driving to the Trojan 20, but Notre Dame forced a punt with 35 seconds left.
Finally Huarte heaved a long desperation pass toward the end zone to Jack Snow with four seconds left. Four USC defenders broke up the pass and secured the USC win.
Notre Dame fell to No. 3 in the rankings the next week.
6. 1948 at Los Angeles: USC 14, Notre Dame 14
1948 Notre Dame vs. USC, Leon Hart 46-yard TD
The Irish were undefeated and riding a 21-game winning streak, but the crowd of 100,571 in the Coliseum wanted an upset.
The Irish scored in the first half on a pass from Frank Tripucka to Leon Hart.
He caught a short pass at the Trojan 40-yard line and was immediately hit by 180-pound Jay Roundy. But Hart, weighing 245 pounds, spun around, caught his balance with his hand and set sail. He was hit three more times, but managed to shake loose and score.
Notre Dame lost the ball seven times during the game though, six times on fumbles and once by interception.
In the third quarter, USC’s Jack Kirby intercepted a pass by Bob Williams and returned it to the Notre Dame 42. The Trojans drove for the tying touchdown scored by Bill Martin from the one.
With time running out in the game, Williams punted, and Kirby returned it to the Notre Dame 42 again. Kirby ran 16 yards for a first down, and USC marched for a score, as Martin pounded through the line from the four to put USC ahead 14-7.
As the Irish lined up for the kickoff, Notre Dame’s Billy Gay calmly walked over to the referee and asked how much time was left. He was told two minutes 35 seconds and responded, “Thank you, sir, that’s enough.”
Then he proceeded to run the kickoff back 86 yards to set up the tying touchdown on the 13-yard line.
Williams ran for five yards, then passed to Gay in the end zone, but it was high. Williams passed to Gay in the end zone again, but Gene Beck of the Trojans was called for pass interference. The ball was mistakenly placed at the two-yard line instead of the one, but Emil Sitko scored, and Steve Oracko booted the extra point for the tie.
The Irish lined up for the kickoff and recovered an onside kick with 34 seconds left. But time ran out, and Notre Dame continued their unbeaten string through 1949.
5. 1996 at Los Angeles: USC 27, Notre Dame 20
Notre Dame head coach Lou Holtz reacts to his first loss to USC
After 13 straight years without beating Notre Dame and 11 straight years of losses, the underdog Trojans needed a win.
USC was struggling at 5-6, and Notre Dame was 8-2.
USC quarterback Brad Otton missed much of the game due to injury, but the Trojans managed to stay in the game.
Notre Dame scored a touchdown to go ahead 20-12 (with the PAT pending) in the fourth quarter.
Things looked bleak for USC, but Irish kicker Jim Sanson missed the extra point, and the margin stayed at eight.
The Trojans responded with an eight-play, 67-yard drive culminating in Delon Washington's 15-yard touchdown run with 1:50 remaining.
Washington also ran in the two-point conversion and the score was tied at 20. Neither team could score before the end of regulation, thus began the first overtime in the series.
On USC's first drive, Otton passed to Rodney Sermons for a five-yard touchdown pass and the Trojans went ahead for the first time, 27-20.
The crowd at the Coliseum erupted when Mark Cusano batted down Ron Powlus' fourth-down pass for the Trojan victory.
It was Lou Holtz's last game as coach of the Irish, and his first loss to the Trojans.
Here are video highlights of the game.
4. 1931 at South Bend: USC 16, Notre Dame 14
1931 USC vs. Notre Dame
The Trojans were 6-1 after an opening game 13-7 loss to St. Mary’s, and their only hope for a National Championship was to beat Notre Dame.
The Irish were on the trail of a third national title with an unbeaten streak of 26 games.
Notre Dame led 14-0 in the final period when lightning struck for two USC touchdowns and a field goal by John Baker.
Orv Mohler and Gus Shaver, two All-Americans, began to push through the Notre Dame line for gain after gain. It was fourth down and a foot as the fourth quarter started, and Shaver made it on the 13-yard line. Ray Sparling carried to the one-yard line, and Shaver again to the 10-inch line. Shaver then scored the touchdown, but Baker’s extra point attempt was blocked.
The Trojans forced a Notre Dame punt, and Shaver and Mohler again led a drive with Shaver scoring from the nine-yard line on a pitch from Mohler after running completely across the field to the corner of the end zone. Another missed extra point made it 13-12.
With eight minutes to play, Notre Dame had to punt. Mohler returned it 26 yards to the Notre Dame 39-yard line. USC fumbled.
But USC forced another Notre Dame punt, and Mohler returned it to his own 27. Shaver passed to Sparling, who made a diving catch. Shaver passed to Bob Hall at the Irish 18, and an offsides moved it to the 13. Mohler held at the 23-yard line and Johnny Baker kicked the field goal with less than a minute left.
Afterwards, USC coach Howard Jones took his team to the grave of Knute Rockne, who was killed the previous spring in a plane crash. Jones placed a wreath at the gravestone, and the team observed a moment's silence.
The win snapped Notre Dame's 26-game unbeaten string and was the Trojans' first win in South Bend.
Called "...the biggest upset since Mrs. O'Leary's cow knocked over that lantern," by El Rodeo, USC's student yearbook, it clinched USC's second national title.
Sports historians cite this come-from-behind victory with Jones as coach as the one that prompted the school from the West to catapult into the same elite circle with Notre Dame.
More than 300,000 fans welcomed the Trojans home from this thrilling victory in South Bend.
The game film was shown in Loew’s State Theatre in downtown Los Angeles to packed houses for weeks.
3. 1926 at Los Angeles: Notre Dame 13, USC 12
Knute Rockne in 1926 getting ready to play USC
Notre Dame and USC played their first game in 1926.
Don Williams and Mort Kaer got the Trojans off to an early lead, and with only four minutes, USC held on 12-7.
Rockne pulled 148-pound Art Parisien off his bench and sent him into the game. He placed a hand on the youngster’s shoulder and said, “Get in there and do your stuff.”
A left-handed passer, Parisien ran to his left and lofted a pass to Johnny Niemiec. It was good. Parisien did the same thing on the next play, this time for the touchdown that won the game. Little Art Parisien, brought west as an act of kindness by Rockne, had taken Notre Dame 60 yards in six plays.
Notre Dame had scored with only two minutes left to nip the Trojans before 74,559, the biggest crowd ever to see a football game in Los Angeles.
Mory Drury (known as “the Noblest Trojan of Them All”) and Brice Taylor each missed extra point attempts for the Trojans, which cost them the game.
A reporter wrote, “A pair of gorgeously executed forward passes in the closing minutes of a heart-breaking game enabled Notre Dame to win from USC by the margin of a single point, 13-12. It was a football battle that has never been excelled for brilliance, thrills and pulsating drama, and the Irish won because Harry O’Boyle kicked one goal after a touchdown, while both Brice Taylor and Morley Drury failed in their attempts to shoot the ball between the uprights.”
Rockne told Jones, “It was the greatest game I ever saw, and I’d say that whether Niemiec caught the winning pass from Parisien or not.”
Rockne then said, “See you in Chicago.”
2. 2005 at South Bend: USC 34, Notre Dame 31
"The Bush Push" for a QB Matt Leinhard winning TD
USC had beaten the Irish by 31 points each of the last three seasons when they arrived at South Bend.
First-year head coach Charlie Weis had the Irish players enter the stadium wearing green jerseys, which put the crowd into a frenzy.
The game was close, but the Irish took a 31-28 lead with two minutes left on a Brady Quinn touchdown run.
The Trojans stormed back though. The drive was bogging down, but USC quarterback Matt Leinart called an audible on fourth-and-nine and connected with Dwayne Jarrett for a 61-yard pass.
Three plays later, USC was at the two and stopped the clock after Reggie Bush ran for a first down. But there were no timeouts left.
Leinart scrambled and dove to the end zone, but was stopped.
Fans and players rushed the field, but the ball was knocked out of bounds giving USC second-and-goal from the one.
On the next play, instead of securing a tie and overtime, and ignoring head coach Pete Carroll signaling to spike the ball, Leinart took the snap and got in for the score, with a little help from a push by Bush (“the Bush Push”).
There was some post-game controversy about the lack of a penalty, but no one could remember the last time it was called, and even Weis said he would want his running back to do the same thing.
Bush had scored three touchdowns of 36, 45 and nine yards. LenDale White also had a three-yard touchdown.
Notre Dame’s Tom Zbikowski had a bruising 60-yard punt return for a touchdown.
This game was vacated by the NCAA, but it will never be forgotten.
1. 1974 at Los Angeles: USC 55, Notre Dame 24
This game falls under the all-time monster momentum swing category.
Defending National Champion Notre Dame rocketed out to a 24-0 lead with only a minute to go in the first half, apparently on the way to an easy win.
Trojan quarterback Pat Haden hit Anthony Davis on a seven-yard scoring pass with six seconds left in the half, providing a glimmer of hope for the second half.
Davis, who burned the Irish for two touchdowns on kickoff returns two years earlier, took the opening kickoff of the second half 102 yards for a touchdown to give the Trojans the momentum.
USC would go on to score 28 more points in the quarter as part of a 55 unanswered-point run over less than a 17-minute span.
Davis scored two more touchdowns that quarter, and Haden threw two TD passes to Johnny McKay, the head coach's son.
In the fourth quarter, Haden connected with Shelton Diggs for a touchdown, and Charles Phillips returned an interception 58 yards for a touchdown
The Irish had only given up eight touchdowns in the previous 10 games, but allowed four Davis touchdowns and four Haden touchdown passes.
After the game, the Rev. Theodore Martin Hesburgh, the then-president of the university, said to Trojan coach John McKay, "That wasn't very nice."
McKay, an Irish-Catholic known for his quick wit, replied, "That's what you get for hiring a Presbyterian! (referring to Parseghian's faith)"
Notre Dame assistant Pagna said, “Southern Cal taught us speed was everything. I think Bear Bryant was the first to say it—luck goes to those with speed. He was right.”
The Trojans finished 10-1-1 and were named UPI National Champions, finishing No. 2 in the AP poll. Notre Dame finished No. 4 in the UPI poll and No. 6 in the AP poll.
Here are video highlights of the game. Warning - this video is not recommended for Notre Dame fans.