USC vs. Notre Dame: Why Rivalry Matchup Is Must-Win for Brian Kelly

Chris GreccoContributor IOctober 18, 2011

USC vs. Notre Dame: Why Rivalry Matchup Is Must-Win for Brian Kelly

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    On Saturday night, the Irish are taking on the Trojans under the lights in Notre Dame Stadium. This marks another chapter in Notre Dame's most prolific rivalry and another battle for the Jeweled Shillelagh.

    In his first encounter with USC, Brian Kelly went to Southern Cal with a freshman quarterback and got a 20-16 win, capping off a three game winning streak to end the season entering their bowl game. In that game, Rees' play was very shaky, throwing three interceptions against the Trojans.

    On the other hand, the Irish ran for 147 yards between their two headed monster of Hughes and Wood.

    Fast forward to this year, the Irish have home field advantage and pretty good momentum coming into this game, following their two opening losses. The Irish have a new two-headed monster in Cierre Wood and Jonas Gray, combining for the nation's 30th best rushing yards per game.

    In the passing game, Tommy Rees is finally starting to get comfortable again in the offense, connecting with Michael Floyd who is having a standout season.

    On the other sideline, the Trojans are coming to town riding on a 5-1 record, led by quarterback Matt Barkley. The Trojans are averaging right under 300 yards per game in the air, with Barkley connecting most with Robert Woods.

    Saturday's game could be a must win for Brian Kelly and the Irish, if he wants to keep this season and his career in control.

Loss Loses BCS Hopes

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    For the Irish and their faithful, there is truly only one way that a season should end, a BCS Bowl. It has been a long time since the Irish have been consistent contenders for the championship every season, and that is what many feel should be the direction the team is headed towards.

    Another thing about Notre Dame fans, however, is their considerably large impatience with the program. While I have not been upset by any of the previous firings in their most recent coaches, it will sometimes take more than a year or two to completely bring the team up to Notre Dame's expectations.

    Enter Brian Kelly and his second season.

    After dropping his first two games where the Irish beat themselves, Kelly has this team clicking on almost all levels. With the USC game as the only major test for the Irish before they travel to Stanford, it is a key game that the Irish must come away with to play their way into the BCS.

    If the Irish win out, there is no way that they will be denied an invitation to play in a BCS Bowl this season. Ultimately though, a three loss Irish team would still have a chance depending on others helping them out, but fans do not want to see another loss and feel that the Irish should make a large leap this season in year two of the Kelly Era.

Rivalry with USC

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    There is no bigger game on Notre Dame's schedule every regular season than the game against USC. If a coach cannot get it done against the hated rivals, there is no place for them in South Bend. Currently for Brian Kelly, he has a 1-0 mark against the Trojans, something neither Ty Willingham or Charlie Weis had in their days in South Bend. 

    I have been to many USC-Notre Dame games in my 20-year life, and have always seen the atmosphere change when the Trojans tried to "Fight On." There will never be a game that can take the place of the 2005 game from my memory; it was the most amazing atmosphere I can imagine being in.

    While implications of this game are not the same as they were in 2005, I can see the atmosphere being just the same.

    If the Irish get it done against USC, a 9-3 season this year would be more acceptable as long as the Trojans aren't the last team to get to the Irish. I personally would feel better about a 1-11 season if the Irish got that one win against the Trojans.

    All that being said, if the Irish beat the Trojans, it not only gives them the push towards a BCS bowl, but it gives that extra swagger going into the next season knowing that they have two wins in a row against the hated USC.

Recruiting Implications

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    With the rivalry of the ND-USC game, not only is it huge for bragging rights and bowl game implications, it will also play a huge role in the success or failure of the upcoming recruiting class. Currently with 16 commits so far this season, this game will foster in many high profile recruits who will be in attendance Saturday night.

    I think the obvious point stands for itself, winning this game in a great atmosphere will create many great impressions for the recruits, and with a win, could possibly gain commitments this weekend. This recruiting class is already coming together nicely, however, if the Irish can continue to gain more depth and more options at each position, they will be in the class of teams like Oklahoma, Florida and even USC, where they are constant contenders because of their great depth.

    What the Irish have tended to lack is the ability to replace stars with a smooth transition into a new up-and-comer. One thing that Kelly has done well is put the recruits in the right places to do just that, and this game will be a big step in continuing this.

Momentum to Carry Them to the Finish

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    The Irish are currently on a four game winning streak heading into Saturday night's contest. With a win on Saturday, the Irish will continue their momentum all the way into the Stanford game with what should be a nine game streak.

    On defense, the Irish are working towards continuing to limit the other team's scoring. The first stringers have a four game streak of holding the other team to under 20 points, with the exception being Air Force, who scored 17 points in the fourth quarter when the game was already clearly out of reach.

    Offensively, the Irish are continuing the running game that has been keeping the passing game open to do damage. Since his fumble against USF, Jonas Gray has been on a tear, averaging 8.4 yards per carry. Along with that, Cierre Wood is averaging just under six yards per carry to go along with six touchdowns.

    Following the USC game, the Irish take on Navy, Wake Forest, Maryland and Boston College. The Irish will be the favorite in each of those, which, as long as the Irish don't beat themselves, they should enter the Stanford game with all the momentum in the world to continue to their biggest matchup of the year against the star prospect, Andrew Luck.