"I'd hope not," wide receiver Jeff Samardzija said on Tuesday about whether USC means more than Army or Navy. "If that's your approach to games, you're going to have a couple of bumps in the season. Obviously, we take every game serious. In college football, any slip up is a big slip up. You have to take every game like it's the most important."
In theory, Samardzija is right. If Notre Dame had been upset by North Carolina or one of the three service academies, the Irish would not be in the position they currently are in. Ranked No. 5 in the BCS, Notre Dame would need a convincing win over USC and then some major flip flopping and memory loss from voters who have Michigan ranked higher.
Another aspect that could get Samardzija ready for the contest is he's part of a senior class who has never beaten the Trojans. Last week, Auburn fans were wearing T-shirts that read, "One for the Thumb," symbolizing the fifth straight victory in the Iron Bowl over Alabama. USC fans could sport the same apparel. The Trojans have won four straight in the series.
"It means a lot because of the history and how far it goes back," Samardzija said of the rivalry. "It's been so long. It's cross country. Back in the old days, it was hard to do but they worked out a way to do it and the fact that it's two powerhouses coming together across the country to play. It means a lot in recruiting and the different aspects of football. It's cool. It's going to be like every year: highly publicized and everyone watching it."
In last season's contest, the Notre Dame offense controlled the ball for 39 minutes and put 31 points up on the scoreboard. The Irish pounded the ball time and time again until a late drive was needed to take the lead. Samardzija caught two balls on Notre Dame's final drive for 32 yards, capped when Brady Quinn scored on a five-yard touchdown run. For the contest, he caught a team-high six balls for 99 yards, including a 32-yard jump ball touchdown over a Trojan defender.
"We kind of did what we wanted to do with the execution," Samardzija said. "It's our staple and how we want to be on offense. It's about execution and moving the ball down the field. We didn't have any penalties. It's about playing solid offense."
*How would you like to be in USC quarterback John David Booty's shoes? First, there was Carson Palmer, a Heisman Trophy winner and overall No. 1 draft pick in the NFL. Second, there was Matt Leinart, a two-time national champion and Heisman winner. Leinart's graduation to the Arizona Cardinals finally opened the door for Booty to see the field.
He hasn't disappointed. Booty has thrown 22 touchdowns to six interceptions with a completion percentage of 62 percent. It sure helps when the wide receiver core is comprised of Dwayne Jarrett, Steve Smith and Patrick Turner. The trio combines size and speed to wreak havoc in opposing secondaries. Also, Booty is aided with protection from All-American left tackle Sam Baker and All Pac-10 center Ryan Kalil.
"Their wide receivers as a group seem to be bringing more and more talent there to stretch the field," secondary coach Bill Lewis said. "You look at their tight end with the ability to run the field like a wide receiver, and in Booty's case, he is very accurate and can make all the throws as you watch him, and they give him time. And when you have a quarterback who has time to sit and understand what he is looking for, be patient and give those receivers time to work open, then you've got some problems.
"They have an outstanding passing game in sense of protection and it starts there. They have a quarterback who knows what he is doing. He is a great manager of the game and he has good skills. Then you have speed at the receiver position, at multiple receiver positions, so they can use every inch of the field."
*ABC will have the national telecast on Saturday night. Kickoff is set for 8:13 EDT. Brent Musberger will be the play-by-play man while former Notre Dame head coach Bob Davie and Kirk Herbstreit have the analysis duties. The all-important sideline reporter is slated to be Lisa Salters.
*The litany of trophy games continues for the Irish. The winner of the Notre Dame-USC contest gets to keep a shillelagh. It's presented by the Notre Dame Club of Los Angeles. Shamrocks represent Irish wins while ruby Trojans heads symbolize USC victories.
*Twelve Notre Dame players are from the state of California: Darrin Bragg, Kevin Brooks, Kyle Charters, Chris Frome, Justin Gillett, Terrail Lambert, Derek Landri, Rhema McKnight, Konrad Reuland, Anthony Vernaglia, Nate Whitaker and Will Yeatman.