Despite these accolades and achievements, this Notre Dame football team is not intimidated one bit. Their match up with the top-ranked Trojans on Saturday afternoon is a chance to tilt the competitive balances of this rivalry back toward the equal point. The last three years has been disastrous for the Irish. USC deserves all the media hype it gets. But the underdog Notre Dame players do not have that deer in the headlights look. They appear confident in their chances.
"You hear the story about David and Goliath," defensive tackle Derek Landri said. "Nobody is unbeatable. Anyone can get beat on any given day. Obviously they haven't been beat in awhile and they're a good team. I think we got a pretty good chance."
"I don't like the word intimidated. They're a good team. They're not the greatest thing in the world to come around. They're a football team. The media likes to build them up as this unbeatable force and unstoppable. It's similar to my high school football team where we won over 150 games in a row. People were beat even before we played them because they we so psyched out about how good we were and how we recruited. I think that's a problem.
"They got great talent and great coaching. But when you come onto the field, anyone can win."
Landri was talking about playing for De La Salle High School in Concord, California. It's the same school that set the longest winning streak in the nation for high school football. Landri admitted that even before the game was played, the opposition would already be defeated because of their negative attitudes and the "we can't play with this team" mentality. Head coach Charlie Weis had to overcome this mental hurdle before playing USC.
The bye week gave the Irish an added week to prepare for USC. This gave Weis an extra seven days to prepare for what Notre Dame will see from the Trojans this upcoming weekend. It also gives him a chance to hammer home to his players that USC is mortal and prime for a defeat.
"He compared both teams to apples to apples," running back Darius Walker said. "They have a great offense. We feel like we have a great offense. We feel we have a great defense and I'm sure they feel like they have a great defense. When you compare apples to apples, it appears that they are very similar teams. We understand if we go out there and play our part, we can beat these guys.
"All the talk in the off-week was that we can play with these guys. It really didn't take Coach Weis coming in and comparing the apples to apples. It's good for us to know that. That's what has changed most about this team is the confidence. Our confidence is so high now that we really feel like we can play with anyone."
How does this change happen? By getting away from the past and looking forward to the future. The history is there: three straight blowouts by 31 points in a row. A portion of the each interview session has to do with the transformation from last year to this year. Weis has imbedded into his players that the 2004 Irish are not playing the 2005 Trojans. A lot has changed in one year and the players agree there is a world of difference.
"We try not to think too much about the past and what happened last year against Southern Cal," Walker said. "We understand this is a different year and a new Notre Dame team. We expect the outcome to be a lot different."
The confidence of this team is pouring out of every sentence. That's what happens when winning takes hold of a program. A loss here or there to Pittsburgh, Michigan, Washington or Purdue might have lessened this growing confidence. But they didn't lose and the belief in their own abilities is growing with each game of the Weis era. These Notre Dame players will not be bullied around by USC on Saturday afternoon. They want what the Trojans have: top spot in the polls. Ask and you shall receive. Notre Dame has a golden chance to take a step towards that goal.
"We want to be the number one team," Walker said. "Like the saying goes: to be the best, you have to beat the best. We're excited about the opportunity to go out and showcase our opportunity."