The Game Day SituationIt's happens every (other) Thanksgiving Saturday: Notre Dame at USC.
For the Irish, the biennial matchup in Los Angeles always follows Senior Day in South Bend, this time against potential Top 20 foe Louisville. Notre Dame will have played four consecutive weeks prior to its trip to Troy, facing Navy (Landover, MD) on November 1, Arizona State (Tempe), Northwestern, and the Cardinals thereafter.
USC draws Notre Dame one week after facing its other chief rival, UCLA in Pasadena. On paper, that's advantage Notre Dame, though the Trojans will be relatively rested for the stretch run, enjoying a bye on November 8.
Why #2 Could Be Too High…Is USC better than Stanford? The two square off on September 6 but that contest will only prove which of the Pac-12 powers is superior in September. By the time Thanksgiving rolls around, attrition will have set in across the country, and USC's talented roster might feel the lingering effects of its scholarship reduction of the previous three seasons.
Among pre-season annuals, highly respected analyst Phil Steele ranks the Trojans highest, slotting them at No. 12 overall. Athlon's (#14), Lindy's (#15) and The Sporting News (#16) rank USC similarly.
Three out of four...Just as annual rivals Stanford and Michigan have taken three of four from the Irish in the Kelly era, bitter foes Michigan State and USC have both dropped three of four to Notre Dame's head man over four seasons.
The Spartans aren't on Notre Dame's 2014 slate, a first since the 2001 season. USC is, and always will be, and a victory by Kelly over first-year head coach Steve Sarkisian in their first matchup would be a feather in the former's cap -- Kelly hit South Bend with Notre Dame losers of eight straight to the Men of Troy and has since turned the tide.
In SummationVegas oddsmakers have staked the Trojans as favorites of a whopping 10 points, a number that seems absurdly high for teams that have duked it out to the final whistle in four of their last five meetings.
With due respect to Arizona State and Louisville, USC is likely the second or third-best overall team the Irish will face in 2014. But both squads will have to deal with the season's three-month grind before squaring off in prime time contest that could afford a 10th win for the 2014 season to the victor.
The likelihood of key competitors missing from both/either side up front will be paramount to game-week handicapping.
Notre Dame has won two straight in The Coliseum after winning just twice (1992 and 2000) over its previous nine visits. A third straight would cement the Irish as the new power player in this, the nation's best non-conference rivalry.
Up Next: A look at what is easily the most difficult game situation on Notre Dame's 2014 slate.