Arguably the best opponent on the schedule? Check.
A historically troublesome spot on the schedule? Check.
Deep enough into the grind of a grueling season for attrition to take its inevitable toll on the host Irish? Check.
All of the above points to but one ranking for Southern California on our annual Trouble Spots series for 2015.
That got out of hand in a hurry…
Notre Dame at USC, Nov. 30, 2014. Trojans players, staff, and fans won’t soon forget, because it was a 60-minute celebration at its chief rival’s expense.
Irish players and coaching staff better not, because they were disinterested and unprepared, respectively, before and whilst getting flogged by the Men of Troy in a name-you-score affair to conclude the 2014 regular season.
In the history of revenge games, this ranks near the top of the list. Excuses won’t be accepted (or offered, it is to be hoped) by Irish players as were many last December when asked to explain their collective no-show in Southern California.
When and Where? Game 7, Week 7, October 17 in South Bend.
In Review: USC lost its annual boatload of talent to the professional ranks but returns position units that ranked among Lindy’s Sports Top 10 at defensive back, linebacker, and offensive backfield, plus Athlon Sports Top 10 at wide receiver and offensive line.
Quarterback Cody Kessler, cornerback/athlete Adoree Jackson, center Max Tuerk, and outside linebacker Su’a Cravens project among the top five players at their position, nationally.
Actual Ranking Among ND’s 12 Foes: Either No. 1, 2, or 3
GAME SITUATION: THE NAVY FACTOR
As noted on these pages in May of 2013 and proven again on the field at Sun Devils Stadium seven months later, Notre Dame struggles after it faces Navy.
It began in 2007 and has continued to present day: the Irish vs. Midshipmen + the week after = Trouble. And usually, defeat.
-- 2007: A 46-44 3OT loss to Navy leads to a 41-24 bundling at the hands of Air Force. Notre Dame was terrible all season, move on…
-- 2008: One week after a 27-21 victory over Navy, Notre Dame loses to a 2-8 Syracuse team, replete with its lame-duck head coach, 24-23.
-- 2009: Navy defeats Notre Dame 23-21. One week later, Notre Dame loses at No. 8 Pittsburgh, 27-22.
-- 2010: After a 35-17 humbling at the hands of the Midshipmen the Irish are upset by Tulsa in South Bend, 28-27.
-- 2011: Notre Dame 56 Navy 10: One week later, Notre Dame holds on to defeat a middling (6-7 final record) Wake Forest team, 24-17 in Winston-Salem.
-- 2012: Notre Dame beats Navy 50-10 in Dublin, Ireland. One week later, the Irish escape Purdue 20-17 in South Bend.
-- 2013: Notre Dame 38 Navy 34: One week later, the Irish are upset by Pittsburgh in the Steel City, 28-21.
-- 2014: Notre Dame holds off Navy 49-39 in Washington, D.C., and then rolls over for 30 minutes in the Desert, eventually coming back strong but ultimately losing 55-31 at Arizona State.
Eight consecutive seasons post-Navy, six defeats, two ugly wins vs. .500 foes. Included among those eight outings are whopping 17 turnovers. It’s more than a troubling trend it’s a reality.
Maybe a bye week after Navy would be prudent in the future?
Why No. 1 could be too high; Why it isn’t: Games at Clemson (atmosphere, opposing team speed/talent) and at Stanford (the Cardinal defense) loom. Both offer the opponent an emotional edge.
Conversely, the Irish will be sky high for USC, though the reality of a date with Navy and Clemson preceding will take its inevitable toll.
USC has two extra days of rest to prepare for its trip to the Midwest, facing Washington on Thursday, Oct. 8.
Previous No. 1s in the Trouble Spots series include: USC 2009, Michigan State 2010, Stanford 2011, Oklahoma 2012, Stanford 2013, FSU 2014.
Among the group, only Oklahoma fell to the Irish, though USC, Michigan State, and Florida State came down to the last play of the contest while Stanford 2013 went down to the game’s final possession.
Projection: What toll will five sure-to-be-contested matchups over the preceding six weeks have on Notre Dame? Will they be able to adjust to USC’s speed and strength seven days after taking it on the knees, literally, at the hands of the clinical Midshipmen triple-option attack?
Though USC wouldn’t have beaten Notre Dame by five touchdowns had the two squared off in mid-October last season rather than at season’s end, the disparity between the programs that afternoon in So-Cal was nonetheless troubling.
Both squads are more likely to enter the contest with one defeat in tow rather than with unblemished marks. That makes this biennial outing in South Bend a playoff elimination game.
-- Overall opponent’s strength: Likely the best team the Irish will face and no worse than third.
-- Game situation: Follows Navy. See eight consecutive seasons worth of pain detailed above.
-- Determining factor: USC’s talent level, plus its schedule slotting at the end of a three-week gauntlet (Clemson, Navy, USC) forces this matchup with the Trojans to the top of our Trouble Spots list for 2015.