Next Up: USC

The scenario that Notre Dame was hoping for did not come to fruition on Saturday. After the Irish's 41-9 victory over Air Force, No 1 Ohio State fended off a challenge from No. 2 Michigan 42-39 in Columbus. The hope was for a Wolverine win or either team blowing the other out by a wide margin. If this happened, there would be more of chance at a spot in the national title contest.

By the way the BCS, Associated Press and Coaches Poll are set now, it'll be difficult for the Irish to see this become a reality. Notre Dame stayed at No. 5 in the BCS while they dropped a spot to No. 6 in the Coaches poll. The team that leapfrogged them was a 10-1 Arkansas team, who beat a porous Mississippi State team 28-14. In the BCS, the Irish are three spots below a Michigan team that handed it to Notre Dame earlier in the season. The Wolverines do not play again this season.

Notre Dame has one more chance to impress voters. This weekend, they'll travel to Los Angeles to face USC, who is No. 3 in the BCS. A big win at the end of the season over a highly ranked opponent on the road could do wonders to get back into the national title conversation. First off, head coach Charlie Weis wants his team to take care of business against the Trojans.

"Ohio State is obviously going to the game," Weis said about the title game on Sunday. "We obviously lost to Michigan at home. I'm well aware of that fact. I think that our best chance, without going being a politician, our best chance is to go out to USC and beat USC and let the chips fall where they may. You beat the second ranked team and everyone has one loss. That's the only way you can even have a stake at the claim. In other words, you can't even be involved in the conversation if you don't go beat USC.

"So the way I look at it, rather than politics saying, ‘Hey, we go out there and beat USC, we're No. 2, we've got one loss, they should make us No. 2,' I'm going to tell my team to go out there and beat USC, do everything we can to beat them because that's what they're trying to do, they're trying to beat us, and let the chips fall where they may."

The more likely scenario is the Irish heading to a BCS bowl other than the national title contest for the second straight season under Weis. The obvious choices, because of the selection process, are the Sugar or Rose Bowls. Even with a loss this weekend at USC, the Irish are an extremely attractive candidate for one of the big money bowls.

"I think that whatever bowl wants to take us versus whomever we're going to play, we'll go and be a good representative and we will be happy to go," Weis said.

USC is not only No. 3 in the BCS. They are one of Notre Dame's most heated rivals. Last season, these two teams played one of the best games in series history. The top-ranked Trojans scored with under five seconds to go on a Matt Leinart quarterback sneak to avoid the upset 34-31 in South Bend. Despite the high quality of play in the contest, Weis mentioned on Sunday that it was still a miserable game and will always be a miserable game because of the outcome. Also, the Trojans have won the past four meetings in the rivalry.

USC lost a ton of talent to the NFL but are in position to play for another national championship. After losing midseason on the road to Oregon State, USC has rebounded with three wins in a row, including Saturday night's 23-9 victory over California. Under head coach Pete Carroll, the Trojans have won 54 of 57 games and two national titles. Weis doesn't think they get enough credit for what they've accomplished in the past few seasons.

"I think they're taken for granted, I really do," Weis said. "I think they're taken for granted. Here's a team- look at what they've done since Pete has been there. They started off slow the first year and then they started winning and they haven't looked back. They just win, win, win, win."

Even without Leinart, Reggie Bush and LenDale White, USC averages 392 yards per game. Quarterback John David Booty has thrown 22 touchdowns to just six interceptions in his first season of starting. A big reason for his success is the targets at the wide receiver position. Steve Smith, Dwayne Jarrett and Patrick Turner make up one of the best trios in the nation. Smith has the shiftiness while Jarrett and Turner provide size as they both are 6'5". The Notre Dame defense have been known to give up the big play and they'll be severely tested this weekend.

"I think the first thing you have to decide is how many defensive players you're going to give attention to the receivers because once you determine how many you're going to try to help out with the receivers, that also says how many you have left to play the run game," Weis said, who mentioned more than once that USC also averages 142 yards per game on the ground. "You can give all sorts of attention to the receivers, but then you sit and leave yourself very vulnerable in the running game.

"When you talked about pick your poison, that's one that I'm talking about. You have to find that combination or that mix where you're not giving away what you're doing and just begging them you can put all sorts of guys involved in the coverage, and then they'll be ramming it down your throat. You have to find that balance, that blend that kind of keeps them guessing."


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