News and Notes: 11/21/2006

The most debated issue from last year's Notre Dame-USC contest was whether or not Reggie Bush's push of Matt Leinart into the end zone for the winning score should have been flagged by the referees. The second hottest topic was the length of grass at Notre Dame Stadium.

Trojan fans have been screaming for over a season about how long the surface was on game day in 2005. Their complaints are louder than normal because tailback/return man Desmond Reed tore ligaments in his right knee in the contest, sidelining him for the season. There were some that thought Reed's career might be over for good. But the senior is back, returning 13 punts for an average of just 3.9 yards.

Was the grass grown long intentionally? It depends on who people ask. USC fans will say yes. Notre Dame fans insist nothing sinister was done. The Irish's Chris Frome also sustained a season-ending knee injury in the game. Who is right? There will never be a definitive answer to the question. Head coach Charlie Weis addressed the issue on Tuesday at his press conference.

"This is the Midwest," Weis said. "In the Midwest, the grass doesn't grow as high as in the South or in warm weather climates. Therefore, if you cut the grass early in the year, usually you don't have any grass at the end of the year. It's a pretty simple concept. If we cut the grass early in the year and there's not any there at the end of the year, we'll be playing on dirt. Is the grass longer here than in other places? Yes. But both teams played on the grass. But what difference does the field you play on have? You play on the field."

*Notre Dame and USC will be meeting for the 78th time on Saturday night in Los Angeles. Kickoff is scheduled for 8:13 p.m. EDT and ABC will have the television coverage. It ranks up there with one of the best rivalries in college football.

Everyone is familiar with the numbers Notre Dame has put up over the years. The reason this game is so revered is because the opponent, USC, has been just as good. The Trojans have had 11 national championships, 28 bowl victories, 141 All-Americans and seven Heisman Trophy winners. USC is on a current streak in the series, winning the past four in the rivalry. Notre Dame had a personal best of 13 wins in a row between 1983-1995. Saturday's game is the first time since 1988 that both teams have been this high in the Associated Press poll and the fifth time in history that they've been in the top-six.

"There have been some ebbs and flows in this series," Weis said. "Notre Dame won a whole bunch in a row for over a decade. Now USC has got the best of us. The bottom line is anytime you have an intersectional rivalry- we have a whole bunch of teams in the Midwest that are big rivals because they are in driving distance from us- but anytime you have an intersectional rivalry you play year in and year out, it always creates a rooting interest because of the different parts of the country. That's one of the things that makes it so special. I hope with how their program has been so good recently, we're on our way there."

*Brady Quinn's five turnover performance against Michigan has had the senior quarterback fighting an uphill battle in the Heisman Trophy race all season long. The leader in the clubhouse, Ohio State signal caller Troy Smith, has had a fantastic season leading the Buckeyes to the No. 1 ranking and a perfect regular season. Smith's four-touchdown performance against the same Wolverine defense that flustered Quinn almost all but guaranteed the Buckeye quarterback the award. Weis let the media know where his allegiances lay in regards to the Heisman.

"Hey, look, I'm prejudiced," Weis said. "I'm totally prejudiced towards Brady Quinn. My view is tainted. I really don't know what the description of the Heisman Trophy is. To me, if it's the most valuable to their team and who has done more for their team to be in the position we're in than anyone else in the country, my guy qualifies under that criteria. If the criteria is the best player on the best team, we can't match that."

*In last season's 34-31 loss to USC, Weis implemented a game plan that would control the clock and keep the ball away from the explosive Trojans offense. The plan was almost perfect. Notre Dame had the ball for 39 minutes compared the USC's 21. The Irish had the lead with two minutes remaining after Quinn ran in a touchdown from five yards out. Despite the solid execution of the offensive game plan, the Trojans were still left with enough time to score the game-winner.

This season, USC has more offensive firepower. The Trojans rank 23rd in total offense, 19th in scoring offense (31 points a contest) and 18th in passing offense (250 yards a game). Weis said on Sunday that nobody wants to get into a track meet with USC and there's one key component to a ball control attack.

"The first thing is patience," Weis said. "One of the problems people have, regardless of personnel groupings or the style of play, going into a big game is not having patience. Our team has shown, when the style of game warrants it, they can play that way. That's what it was last year. Their staff can dictate a different style of play if they want to. You have to be ready to adjust to the way they play, whatever it is."

*Weis has built an impressive record of 19-4 over the span of two seasons. He took the Irish to a BCS bowl in the first year at Notre Dame, a season removed from a .500 team under head coach Tyrone Willingham. The best win of the 19 victories? Possibly defeating then No. 3 Michigan 17-10 in Ann Arbor (although the Wolverines finished 2005 7-5) or the opener this year at No. 15 Georgia Tech. A win on Saturday night in Los Angeles over No. 3 USC will easily give Weis the biggest win of his short career. The Irish head coach, though, considers almost every win major.

"There are very few victories that I don't consider big," Weis said. "If you glamorize one game, you aren't giving just due to all the other games. There are very few victories where we won and I didn't say that was a great victory. We've had two dramatic victories. Those were great victories. How could you not say Michigan State and UCLA in the fourth quarter weren't great victories? You don't feel much better than the euphoria after those games. Just because it's not Michigan or USC or Ohio State, there have been some victories here that you couldn't convince our players that they weren't great victories."


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