USC vs. Notre Dame: Top 10 Games in Rivalry History
This weekend USC and Notre Dame will play for the 81st time in college football history, extending a rivalry that dates all the way back to 1926.
Notre Dame leads the series 42-33-5, but the Jeweled Shillelagh has been in the Trojans' hands for the last eight years. Could this be the year that true freshman Tommy Rees and the rest of the Fighting Irish steal it back from USC's clutches?
One thing is for sure, though. This long-standing rivalry, one of the best in college football, has produced some of the greatest games of all time.
The rivalry has produced five of the 10 most-watched college football games in television history. The two schools have produced more national titles, Heisman trophy winners, All-Americans, College Football Hall of Famers and NFL Hall of Famers than any other two teams with a lengthy series.
Stretching back to the days of Knute Rockne and extending all the way to Matt Barkley's tenure as USC's quarterback, college football fans should be thankful for the classics of this series.
Read on to discover the top 10 games in the history of the rivalry.
No. 10: Notre Dame 28, USC 24 in 1989
The 1989 episode started off with a bang when Notre Dame's players lined up in the end zone and effectively blocked the Trojans from taking the field. With hatred already flowing through the veins of most involved in the game, a full-scale brawl started.
Both teams knew then that this would be no easy victory.
Notre Dame was ranked No. 1 in the country and had an 18-game win streak to back it up. However, USC wouldn't play like they were afraid.
Led by quarterback Todd Marinovich, who would complete 33 of his 55 passes, the Trojans took control during the first half and went back into the locker room with a 17-7 lead.
Their lead wasn't large enough, though, as Notre Dame quarterback Tony Rice kept the ball and ran for the winning score with just over five minutes left in the game. He had just completed a deep pass to Rocket Ismail to set up the score.
After batting down Marinovich's Hail Mary attempt, the Irish got to celebrate a come-from-behind victory.
No. 9: USC 38, Notre Dame 28 in 1970
In 1970, Notre Dame came in as a heavy favorite. While USC had floundered to a 5-4-1 record, the Irish were ranked No. 2 in the country, trailing only the Texas Longhorns, and carried a perfect 9-0 record.
This game changed that, though, as USC put the nation on upset alert with a 24-14 halftime lead. During the second half, the Irish literally fumbled away the game. They lost the ball twice, including a costly fumble in their own end zone.
USC would go on to win the game 38-14. However, that's not what makes this one of the top games in the rivalry's storied history.
Joe Theismann, in the loss, threw for a Notre Dame single-game record 526 yards. Even more impressively, it was done in the pouring rain.
No. 8: USC 20, Notre Dame 17 in 1964
On paper, this game shouldn't have even been close. Notre Dame was an 11-point favorite thanks to their undefeated record and No. 1 ranking. Ara Parseghian, in his first season as the Irish's head coach, had already won seven more games than the year before.
The Trojans, playing at home, were 6-3 and unranked.
John Huarte was the starting quarterback for Notre Dame and eventually would go on to win the Heisman Trophy. In this game, he staked the Irish to a 17-0 lead at halftime. But they wouldn't score again.
After a remarkable comeback to even get close, USC quarterback Craig Fertig was faced with a difficult fourth-down situation. He didn't succumb to the pressure, though, and hit Rod Sherman for the game-winning touchdown with 1:35 left to take a 20-17 lead.
Notre Dame took the kickoff after the touchdown and drove down the field, but Huarte's last pass intended for Jack Snow was broken up in the end zone.
USC got to celebrate a huge upset win at home while Notre Dame watched their ranking slip to No. 3, dropping them out of the championship picture.
No. 7: Notre Dame 21, USC 21 in 1968
Most people knew this would be a good game before it even started.
USC was undefeated and ranked No. 1 in the country, while Notre Dame had an impressive 7-2 record. But Terry Hanratty, the Irish starting quarterback, was injured, forcing Joe Theismann to start.
On the first play of the game, Theismann dropped back to pass and threw an interception that Sandy Darko returned for a touchdown. All around the country, Notre Dame fans groaned.
Despite the bad start, Notre Dame ended up with the halftime lead following a halfback-to-quarterback option pass for a touchdown from Coley O'Brien to Theismann.
During the second half, the Trojans outscored their opponents by that same 21-7 margin and the game ended in a tie.
Impressively, the Irish held eventual Heisman winner O.J. Simpson to just 55 rushing yards, his lowest total of the season.
To verify the commonly-held belief that this was a classic, the 22.9 rating still makes this game one of the most widely viewed games in college football history.
No. 6: USC 27, Notre Dame 20 in 1996
The first overtime game in the series' length history has to be put on this list.
While Notre Dame stood tall at 8-2, USC had struggled to a 5-6 record and was coming off of a heartbreaking double-overtime loss to the Bruins of UCLA. More importantly, USC hadn't beaten Notre Dame in 13 straight years, the last 11 of which were losses.
Late in the game, Notre Dame scored a touchdown to take a 20-12 lead. But Jim Sanson missed a crucial extra point and failed to extend the Irish lead to two scores.
USC took the ensuing kickoff and reeled off an eight-play, 67-yard drive. The eighth play of the drive saw Delon Washington run the ball in from 15 yards out with 1:50 left.
The Trojans still needed a two-point conversion, so they handed it off to Washington again. He would not be denied and the overtime was forced.
On USC's first possession, Brad Otton threw a five-yard touchdown pass to Rodney Sermons to take a 27-20 lead.
Then the defense took the field and Mark Cusano batted down Ron Powlus' fourth-down pass attempt to preserve the victory.
This game was Lou Holtz's last game as Notre Dame's head coach and his first loss to the school's bitter rival.
No. 5: USC 34, Notre Dame 31 in 2005
"The Bush Push" game was Charlie Weis' first game against USC as the Notre Dame head coach, so to pump up his team he had them don the classic green jerseys.
The game was close throughout and with just two minutes left, Brady Quinn took the snap and snuck into the end zone to take the lead.
USC would have one more shot, though, and on a crucial fourth-and-9, Matt Leinart hit wideout Dwayne Jarrett for a first down that moved his Trojans into the red zone.
Leinart then scrambled out of the pocket and ran for the end zone, lunging forward at the last second but coming up short and losing the ball out-of-bounds with just seven seconds left. The clock continued to run and hit zero, prompting the Irish faithful to storm the field.
As the officials huddled up, Notre Dame celebrated, but seven seconds were put back on the clock.
Instead of kicking a field goal and forcing overtime, the Trojans chose to run the ball. Leinart took the snap and bulled forwards, but his forward progress was stopped until Reggie Bush pushed him into the end zone from behind. It was technically against the rules, but even Weis said he'd want his running back to do the same thing.
Due to NCAA sanctions, the win was vacated from USC's records. But our memories will still hold this game as a classic.
No. 4: Notre Dame 51, USC 0 in 1966
Notre Dame was coming off a 10-10 tie with Michigan State and desperately needed a strong showing to impress voters into giving them a chance to win the national title. Playing an away game against USC was probably not the ideal situation.
But, it worked.
Terry Hanratty, the Notre Dame quarterback, had been injured the week before, forcing Coley O'Brien to make his only collegiate start.
O'Brien didn't disappoint, and completed 21 of 31 passes for 255 yards and three touchdowns. On top of those three passing touchdowns, Notre Dame had two pick-sixes, one each by Tom Schoen and Dave Martin.
It all added up to a 51-0 blowout of the Trojans, the worst loss in USC history.
After the game, USC head coach John McKay vowed to never lose to Notre Dame again. He would accumulate an 8-1 record against the Irish during the rest of his coaching days, not losing again until 1973.
Notre Dame, meanwhile, moved up to No. 1 in the rankings.
No. 3: USC 55, Notre Dame 24 in 1974
Called "The Comeback," this is widely considered one of the greatest games in USC's storied history, regardless of the opponent.
USC trailed 24-0 late in the first half, but with just 10 seconds remaining, Pat Haden hit Anthony Davis for a seven-yard score and the floodgates opened.
After halftime, Davis returned the opening kickoff for a 102-yard touchdown. He had two more touchdowns in the period and Haden threw two touchdown passes of his own to the coach's son, Johnny McKay.
In the fourth quarter, Haden threw yet another touchdown pass, this time to Sheldon Diggs. The defense also got involved in the scoring when Charles Phillips returned an interception 58 yards for a touchdown.
All in all, the Trojans scored 35 points in the third quarter and a remarkable 55 points in a 17-minute span.
It was indeed a remarkable comeback.
No. 2: USC 16, Notre Dame 14 in 1931
In 1931, USC traveled to South Bend to face a Notre Dame team that had won an incredible 26 straight games.
As most expected, the Irish led 14-0 at the start of the fourth quarter, but with just one minute left, Johnny Baker hit a 33-yard field goal to steal the game for the Trojans.
Not only did it snap Notre Dame's winning streak, but it was also the Trojans' first win in South Bend. Even more significantly, the victory captured USC's second national title and is said to have vaulted the school into the same stratosphere as the Notre Dame program.
USC also had the pleasure of returning home and being greeted by 300,000 jubilant fans.
No. 1: Notre Dame 13, USC 12 in 1926
It's only fitting that the first game in the classic rivalry may have also been the best.
In fact, Notre Dame's head coach, Knute Rockne, said it was the greatest game he ever saw.
The game only happened because Rockne's wife talked to USC athletic director Gwynn Wilson's wife. After Wilson and his wife traveled to Lincoln and watched Nebraska beat Notre Dame 17-0, the wives spoke. Shortly after, the game became a mainstay on the schools' respective schedules.
As fans hoped, the first game came down to the wire.
Notre Dame's quarterback, Ara Parisien, threw a touchdown pass to Johnny Niemiec with just two minutes left to take a 13-12 lead. The score would hold up and Notre Dame would start the series off with a victory.
Was it the greatest football game that the rivalry has seen? No, probably not. But because of the historical significance, it finds itself at No. 1 on the list.
USC 45, Notre Dame 23 in 1972
USC was 10-0 and had what many call the greatest team in school history. Notre Dame was 8-1.
Anthony Davis, the running back for the Trojans, scored six touchdowns and USC went on to win the national championship.
USC 27, Notre Dame 25 in 1978
Notre Dame rode an eight-game win streak into the Coliseum, but after a dominant first three quarters the Trojans led 24-6.
Joe Montana, the Notre Dame quarterback, led a remarkable comeback to take a 25-24 lead with 45 seconds left.
USC then drove down the field and Frank Jordan made the game-winning field goal with four seconds left on the clock.
Notre Dame 38, USC 37 in 1986
USC was the better team for most of the game and had a 37-20 lead in the fourth quarter.
After a late rally highlighted by Tim Brown’s 56-yard punt return to the USC 16 in the final minute, John Carney hit a 19-yard field goal as time expired to win by one point. Unfortunately, CBS was showing a commercial and forgot to show the field goal.
Notre Dame finished the season 5-6 but this game was considered a turning point for the program.