Irish "Going to Work"

On Sunday, usually the Notre Dame football team goes over the tape of the previous day's game and doesn't start their preparations for next week's opponent until Tuesday. But with Thanksgiving on Thursday and a flight out to Los Angeles a day earlier than most road trips, head coach Charlie Weis bumped the schedule up.

As the players were heading into Sunday's meeting, the USC fight song was blaring. Every Irish fan can unfortunately remember the rhythm of the Trojan tune played over and over again throughout games. Sunday was not only the day where the scouting report was discussed but it was also a sort of emotional release for this weekend's big contest.

"Today's press conference is a question and answer period instead of a state of the union on USC because on Sunday, we dealt with the highs and lows and the trash talking," Weis said on Tuesday. "We got that out of the way on Sunday. We're not coming in to the USC fight song today. We won't put any motivational tools by any announcer in the country. We're coming in, putting in the game plan and going to work."

Notre Dame has been pointing to this contest ever since last season's classic 34-31 home loss to the Trojans. Kickoff on Saturday is at 8:13 EDT and ABC will have the television coverage. The No. 5 Irish sit two spots below No. 3 USC in the BCS rankings. The Trojans are just slightly behind No. 2 Michigan.

The positive for them: the Wolverines don't have any more contests this year to impress voters. USC has Saturday's platform at night along with the following week against cross town rival UCLA. For Notre Dame to have any chance to get into the national championship discussion, a thorough beating of the Trojans out in Los Angeles is a good first step. However, even this scenario probably won't be enough for the Irish to catapult into the top-2. The role of spoiler to USC's championship dreams is more likely.

"Besides the fact that it's a rivalry, the magnitude of the game is so much," Weis said. "Add the fact that the guys here haven't beaten USC. You'd like to figure walking out the door beating them once. The magnitude of the game, because both teams only have one loss, combined with a natural rivalry and them having the best of us recently, it all builds together."

USC head coach Pete Carroll has had quite the program out in Los Angeles. In the last five years, they've won two national titles, had five BCS bowl appearances, five Pac-10 championships and strung together 54 victories in the past 57 contests. Weis joked he would leave the coaching profession happily with a record like that.

This year was thought to be a "rebuilding" year with the Trojans, if that's such the case anymore. The losses of Reggie Bush, Matt Leinart, LenDale White and others to the NFL Draft might have had opponents licking their chops. As usual, they don't rebuild out in Los Angeles. They reload. USC stands at 9-1 on the season and possibly two wins away from going to another national championship game. Even though this will be the Trojans third game in a row against a top-25 team, Weis doesn't think for a second they'll be spent.

"He has his team in position to play for a national championship," Weis said of Carroll. "This isn't just another game for him. This game is the game that can put him over the hump. He's close to Michigan in the BCS ratings right now and if they do a number on us, it might move them up to No. 2. There is all the motivation for them. There is zero chance they come in flat for us. It's not happening."

Weis and Carroll's path crossed in the NFL. In 1993, Carroll was the defensive coordinator of the New York Jets trying to stop division rival New England, where Weis was the tight ends coach. In 1994, Carroll became the head coach of the Jets before getting fired after the season. They met again from 1997-99, when Carroll was the head coach of the New England Patriots while Weis was the wide receivers coach/offensive coordinator of the Jets. After all these years in the pro ranks and now matched together in college, there's a familiarity of both coaches style and scheme.

"He knows me, too," Weis said of Carroll. "It would be one thing if I said, ‘Yeah, I know him.' He knows me, too. He knows what I do. These guys are good. They know what I do. You just have to do it better than they do it. That's what you're going to have do. Are there certain things they do year in and year out? Absolutely. But there are things that I do that he knows, too. Sometimes it comes out a wash. This guy is one of the real challenges."

It'll be a challenge for the Notre Dame seniors playing in their last Irish-Trojan contest. This group of players have never beaten USC. The Trojans have rattled off four in a row in the rivalry en route to their recent dominance in college football. Last season, barely anyone gave Notre Dame a shot at beating No. 1 USC and ending their long winning streak. Weis firmly wants his team to now think they can get the job done over the West Coast rivals.

"I would hope this year our players are expecting to win instead of hoping to win," Weis said. "I would hope that would be the case. Now, that's easier said than done. I'm sure the team going against us expects the same. Pete is 19-0 in November. They've won 32 in a row at home. The odds are in their favor. For them to go out and expect to do what we want to do, we're going to have to play an awfully good game against an awfully good team."


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