Site Predictions staff, moderators, and two guest selectors offer their predictions for Saturday night's battle with the Men of Troy

Tim O'Malley – Managing Editor

Notre Dame's mild upset of the Trojans in The Coliseum last year lifted a Tyrannosaurus off the program's back. This year's contest won't be as close, or poorly played. Look for another 500-plus yards of total offense by the Irish and nearly 900 total between the teams; but a pair of Irish turnovers will keep this from becoming an epic blowout. The win will be gratifying and decisive nonetheless.
Notre Dame 35 USC 20 (Full-game story forthcoming).

Brian Dohn – Recruiting Analyst

Notre Dame has found its offensive rhythm and USC brings a struggling defense to Notre Dame Stadium. This is the start of USC seeing what NCAA sanctions are doing to the program because the Trojans aren't nearly as talented as they were in years past, and the Irish know it. As long as Notre Dame doesn't turn the ball over with frequency, USC will not be able to stop the offense. Notre Dame 34 USC 21

Dave Berk – Recruiting Analyst

A week off prior to playing rival USC allows for all the bumps and bruises to heal giving the Irish a squad that should be hyped and ready to go when they see the Trojans take the field on Saturday night. USC enters play with several injuries and fully expects the hostile crowd to be into this game by the time kickoff comes around. Look for Kelly to use the Irish running game to set up a big day passing the ball as the Irish roll 34-24

Christian Zavisca – Staff

Home game. Bye week. Night game. The one-game winning streak. The odds seem to favor Notre Dame at home against cross-country rival USC.

Streaking Notre Dame might be due for a letdown at some point, but it's unlikely to come in this prime-time matchup. USC's offensive weapons should keep the Irish on their toes as well. If the Irish can continue to avoid the big mistakes, they will keep their roll going by outscoring the Trojans.
Notre Dame 33 USC 30

SeattleNDFan (Moderator/West Coast Guru)

Conventional football wisdom says that football games are won and lost on the line of scrimmage, and if that holds true Saturday night Notre Dame should defeat the Trojans of Southern Cal handily as for the first time in decades, ND has a clear advantage on both lines. The confounding factors are a Notre Dame team which found a way to lose to Michigan despite line of scrimmage dominance for three quarters, and Southern Cal's Robert Woods.

On offense the Trojans have struggled against offenses with far less talent than the Irish all year, with decent strength at DE but DT's and LB's who will not remind anyone of Jurell Casey and Rey Maualuga, and with smallish defensive backs who will not be confused with Taylor Mays any time soon. The Tampa 2 scheme USC DC Monte Kiffin runs invites short passes in front of the linebackers and safeties and if they play this scheme it should play right into Tommy Rees' strengths and allow Michael Floyd, Tyler Eifert and Theo Riddick plenty of opportunities for yards after short catches.

Meanwhile, the middle linebacker playing essentially a third safety spot should allow Cierre Wood and Jonas Gray the opportunity for big runs if they get to the second level, where the offensive line has excelled at getting them this season. If ND can avoid stupid turnovers, there is no reason the offense should not score early and often against this Trojan defense.

On defense the breakdown is even simpler, ND should be able to control the Trojan running game AND pressure QB Matt Barkley with their front seven alone, which would allow them to double Robert Woods all over the field. USC uses him much the same way ND uses Floyd, moving him around and getting him the ball on a variety of short passes and bubble screens and letting him make people miss after the catch, then occasionally sending him deep on the sidelines, but Woods resembles the 2009 version of Floyd more than the 2011 in that he does not often seem to go across the middle other than on quick slants, which makes him easier to bracket cover as ND's weakest link remains covering slot receivers and TE's dragging across the middle.

With opposite side USC receiver Marqise Lee nursing a separated shoulder suffered against Arizona last Thursday, we could also see the equally dangerous George Farmer, who has been used mainly as a third string RB, see some snaps at WR.

ND special teams have not been special and stats I have seen say that they are costing the Irish an average of just under 3 points a game. 3 points could win or lose any football game and given week, but this Saturday I do not see that being the case.
Notre Dame 38 Southern Cal 17

Morrissey79 (Moderator/Eligibility Maven)

The time has finally come – Saturday night's game has been talked about since the administration announced NDs first night game in over 20 years. USC comes into South Bend 5-1 off a solid 30-9 beat down of an average California team, but did have some bumps and bruises to some key players.

The Irish had a week off to rest up, get healthy, and prepare for this epic game. The football players have also had the luxury of no class as the school is on fall break (something that shouldn't go unnoticed).

Last year the Irish faced the Trojans without QB Matt Barkley – with the young "star" ready to return to the stadium where he played very well as a freshman, some fans seem to be in a bit of a panic over the athletic offense and playmakers USC will be bringing to the table.

For me, this game comes down to three things:

  1. Who controls the line of scrimmage? Both ways, meaning who can run the ball and who can stop the run. Who can protect the passer, and who can get after the passer.
  2. Which team takes care of the football more? Barkley threw 2 picks on the road against ASU, while Rees has 5 turnovers on the road this year.
  3. Intangibles – 1st night game in 21 years, rivalry game, recruiting weekend, cold weather, green out, etc.

I expect ND to be very prepared as Coach Kelly has historically been very strong after bye weeks. The team has had 2 weeks to prepare, and the defense tends to play well against offenses that run traditional formations. ND will focus on stopping the run, allow Barkley/Woods to complete the underneath routes similar to Cousins/Cunningham during the MSU game, and look to get pressure with Lynch, Tuitt, Fleming, and even some appearances from Ishaq Williams in 4 down sets.

Rees will take care of the football (but probably will have one hiccup), but Wood and Gray will continue to pound the ball, and SC will have no answers for Mike Floyd (best player on the field) and Tyler Eifert (SCs LBs are very undersized).
ND 34 USC 17

GaviND (Moderator/Team Rabbit's Foot)

Ahhhhh...U$C week is upon us.

After a dismal start to the season, the Irish have rebounded nicely and rolled through the bye week after winning four games in a row. While the 4-2 that ND sports is not all that attractive, the growth and vast improvement in the on-field product since Michigan has left most Irish Eyes smiling.

This weekend the Trojans and their annoying band roll into town. At 5-1, these Trojans look more like the Irish teams of the Charlie Weis era than any of the Pete Carroll squads that hung eight straight losses on the ND; lots of offense and lots of undeveloped talent on defense.

As long as Tommy Rees and the company can keep the ball securely in their grasp, the Irish offense should be able to maintain the balanced attack that has helped them win four straight. U$C's pass defense has been porous for much of the year, yielding 271 yards per game – which ranks them 105th nationally. Trying to cover Michael Floyd would be a tall enough task but then add an emerging Tyler Eifert and T.J. Jones to the mix and the Irish could be in line for a big day through the air.

Defensively, Notre Dame's front seven should be more than prepared to shut down the Trojan running game even if Ethan Johnson is not prepared to partake in his typical work volume...but trouble could come through the air. U$C is ranked 19th nationally in passing yards per game as Matt Barkley and company have racked up 297 yards per game through the air.

While Gary Gray and Robert Blanton have played significantly better since the Michigan debacle, they have also not seen the likes of Robert Woods and Marquise Lee. In my opinion, there is likely no way to stop Woods, but the hope is that you are able to contain him and keep him from beating you.

The spread for this game presently favors Notre Dame by 9 however I see this one being slightly closer than that...but you all know I am superstitious and am not one to mess with what has worked. U$C 34 ND 28

BNolan (Moderator/Doubting Thomas)

I'll tie into the upcoming holiday... which ND team will take the field?

Dr. Jekyl or Mr. Hyde? Even in recent victories there are significant chinks in this team's armor, but if they PROTECT the football, avoid needless miscues, and play aggressive and disciplined football (shouldn't be any problems getting fired up for this high profile tilt) the better team (ND, on paper, for the first time in a while) should prevail. We have a LOT of reasons to win this one, obviously.

If we are flat, turn the ball over, make mental mistakes, fall behind... it won't make for a festive Saturday night.

I'll hope to see another dumbfounded and defeated visage on Lame's mug as time ticks away. ND 31 USC 24

KurzND (Moderator/Now Allowed to Buy Beer)

Time for the Greatest Rivalry in College Football. Both teams have decent records yet both are unranked. However I haven't been more excited for a football game since SC v ND in 05. With all the recruits, the first night game in 21 years, and Kelly's Irish looking to go 2-0 vs the Trojans. SC has talent, but the not kind of talent they have been used to in the past decade.

On the other side, the Irish have talent and have been improving from week to week. I look for the Irish to win this game due to their play on the lines. The SC offense is explosive with WRs Lee and Woods being thrown to by Barkley, but their run game is very, very average. With leading man Marc Tyler not at 100% and may not play, expect the Irish to contain their run game like last year. Woods will get his years, but it is important that the Irish limit big plays.

As for the Irish on O, the Trojan D-Line is talented and has been ok at stopping the run. I expect the Irish to pound away with Wood and Gray and Rees to manage the game well. The Trojan secondary is not that big particularly at corner. I expect ND to stick to short slants to Riddick and TJ while Eifert and Floyd being the medium and safety net receivers. Irish make a statement for recruits and to SC.
Notre Dame 34 SC 24

JBaumhower (Guest Selector/Insider)

Throughout Notre Dame-USC series there have been battles between heavyweights. That isn't the case this season as both programs have struggled in stretches. That doesn't mean both teams don't have the talent to be top teams, rather it is a case that both teams have been sloppy at times. It cost USC its lone loss against a solid Arizona State squad. Notre Dame's inconsistencies on the field cost them in the season opener against South Florida and again the following week in Ann Arbor.

From a talent perspective, both teams will be facing their toughest test of the season. USC isn't the team they were three years ago, but the Trojans have top athletes on both sides of the ball. Matt Barkley and Robert Woods lead a USC offense that is ranked 21st in the country in passing. USC will try to get their ground game going, but its Barkley and Woods that make this team dangerous. The Trojan duo will get their yards on Saturday, but the Irish need to limit the big plays that hurt them in the fourth quarter against Michigan.

Offensively, the Irish should be able to move the ball against a solid USC defense. The weakness for USC is their pass defense. Michael Floyd and Tyler Eifert should have big games, but the success of the offense will come on the shoulders of the offensive line. The Irish rushing attack is a big reason the Irish have been able to get on track this season, and I expect Cierre Wood and Jonas Gray to open up the passing game for Tommy Rees and company.

On paper the 83rd meeting between the Irish and Trojans looks to shape up as a very close game. Ultimately the game will be decided on the sideline, between the guys with the headsets. In this case, Brian Kelly is superior to Lane Kiffin. That will be the difference on Saturday. In a close battle, the Irish hold off the Trojans 24-20.

LafayetteSquare22 (Guest Selector/Comedian-at-large)

From the Decade of Dominance to the Decade of Decimation, with some Stefan Schroffner and Stafon Johnson thrown in for bad measure, the battles between Notre Dame and USC have been pretty one-sided through the past two10-year spans. Last year's game featuring some great Notre Dame defense, and not so great USC receivers (or was that Featherstone from Necessary Roughness?) ending an eight year run of USC cakewalking and Bush-pushing.

Well, with the first night game in 20 years at Notre Dame on Saturday, there will be a charged up crowd not seen since the late 80s and a great college football atmosphere. At the very least I'll be charged up after tailgating for 12 hours…who's the lucky lottery ticket winner that gets to sit next to me?

Normally I discount the whole "night game means the home team will play with extra emotion" theory. On Saturday night, however, I fully expect the crowd to fire up the Notre Dame defense to put a beating on Matt Barkley and crew. USC has a non-existent running game, and a one dimensional offense like that will not be able to consistently move the ball – even in Gray areas.

The Notre Dame offense has shown throughout the year that it can only beat itself. Though they may come out and try to do a little too much in the beginning of the game, once they settle down in the second quarter they should be able to move the ball easily and score at will. I predict Matt Barkley to be on his back more than the song girls, and for this to be a truly electric and memorable night in a stadium that has seen too few of them in the last 20 years.
Notre Dame 34 USC 13 Top Stories