Led by Knute Rockne, Notre Dame was riding a 20-game winning streak heading into their 1921 matchup against the Iowa Hawkeyes. On fourth-and-goal from the two yard-line, Iowa's All-American, Gordon Locke, overpowered Notre Dame legend, "Hunk" Anderson, and plunged across the goal line for a 10-7 Iowa win. After the game, Rockne met Iowa coach Howard Jones at midfield. They shook hands and Rockne said, "You owe me one." Little did Jones know at the time, but that one would be the first game of the greatest intersectional rivalry in college sports: Notre Dame and USC.
It was 1926 and after a brief stint at Trinity College (now Duke University), Howard Jones had become the head football coach at the University of Southern California. Jones was a tremendous football coach who cared about the integrity of the game. He was run out of Iowa after supporting a referee's decision that cost Iowa a game against Michigan. Jones was teacher of the game, and well respected by Rockne. In 1926, they would meet in the inaugural match up of the two powerhouse programs.
For years Notre Dame's faculty board protested the game, claiming that Notre Dame was not a professional football team, and the long travel would be harmful to the players in the classroom. After all, the teams traveled by train, which meant that Notre Dame players would be away from school and missing class for two weeks. As was not uncommon, Rockne disagreed with the board. In 1923, Rockne even went so far as to promise a Christmas game for the Notre Dame alumni of Los Angeles. When the board denied the request, Rockne was livid. Finally, after being offered a substantial amount of money, and fearing that they might lose their football coach, the Notre Dame board finally approved the long-awaited game.
Southern Cal entered the December 4th game at 8-1, with their only loss being to Stanford, 13-12, at the end of October. Notre Dame had opened the season with an impressive nine straight wins, however, had fallen upset to Carnegie Tech. Rockne had actually skipped the game to attend the Army-Navy game at Soldier field. Without Rockne, the Irish fell 19-0 to Carnegie Tech, and lost any hope at the national championship.
Rockne and Notre Dame, left for Los Angeles on a Tuesday morning. With the train trip taking four days and nights, Rockne could not regularly hold practice in the week leading up to the game. Instead, he worked the team out in the train yards at the frequent stops along the way. As the Irish began getting closer to California, Rockne also arranged some meetings with other football programs that were familiar with Southern Cal. One such stop was the University of Arizona, where Rockne received scouting reports as well as use of the stadium to conduct practice before the big game. Perhaps much to the surprise of Rockne, the team had mini-pep rallies at the various train stations. Notre Dame supporters flocked to meet and greet the team, and wish them luck against Southern Cal. As the rivalry continued, the train ride would become more of a parade with Notre Dame bringing out hundreds of supporters at each stop along the way.
As for the game itself, in perhaps a preview of years to come, it was a classic. Trailing 12-7 with only minutes left to go in the game, Notre Dame found itself in a position where they needed to make something happen or else Southern Cal would be able to run out the clock. In a strategic move that only Rockne could pull off, the coach benched his starting quarterback, bypassed the next two backups and went straight for the fourth string quarterback. Why? Well, Art Parisien, a player whose playing time did not even earn him a varsity letter that year, was ambidextrous. Rockne thought his passing with both his right-side and left-side would keep the Trojans off-balance enough for Notre Dame to move the ball. Rockne was right. Notre Dame marched down the field, and Parisien capped off the drive with a winning touchdown pass. Notre Dame went on to win the game 13-12 and claim the first victory in the rivalry.
In 1927, the Trojans traveled east to face Notre Dame at Soldier Field in Chicago. Unofficially tallying 120,000 spectators, it is still considered the largest crowd to ever see a game in the history of college football. Notre Dame went on to win that game, 7-6, to put a good end to a disappointing 7-1-1 season.
The success of both teams in the early years certainly helped fuel the rivalry. In the first seven years, four national championships were won between the two teams, with each winning two. The two schools have met annually since 1926, with the exception of 1943-1945, in which the war made it difficult to make the cross-country trip. While the rivalry traditionally was played in November, Southern Cal demanded that their trip to South Bend be moved to October, beginning with the 1961 game. They felt that the nasty weather of the Midwest gave Notre Dame an unfair advantage when playing at home. The USC-hosted games have continued to be played in November as Notre Dame felt no need to complain about the Southern California Novembers.
Notre Dame and USC have met 77 times since 1926. Notre Dame leads the series 42-30-5. There have been classic battles over the years, including several games with National Championship implications. Both schools are rich in tradition with each school claiming 11 national championships, to go with seven Heisman Trophy winners. With countless All-Americans and NFL alumni, it is a rivalry that has consistently showcased the best talent in America, year in and year out.
In 1951, the rivalry changed college football forever. For the first time, a college football game was being broadcasted on television to the entire nation. Fr. Hesburgh, who was not yet Notre Dame President, spoke to the team shortly before kickoff. He explained to them the importance of the game as 60 million people would be watching. In an age where football games were primarily listened to on the radio, it would be the first chance for many Americans to see the team that they followed so passionately. Fr. Hesburgh inspired the football team to play as if someone were watching them for the first time, as so many actually were. Notre Dame went on to win that game 19-12, despite being an underdog to the No. 20-ranked Trojans. The Irish finished unranked that year with a 7-2-1 record.
1964 marked the beginning of the Ara-McKay era…..two legendary coaches that provided some epic battles and combined, won six national championships. In a game that eerily paralleled the 2005 battle in South Bend, Notre Dame led the Trojans with time winding down. Down 17 points at one point, the Trojans had crawled back into the game, and faced a fourth-and eight. With Notre Dame's national championship on the line, USC converted for a touchdown, and won the game 20-17. Ara was only one play away from winning the national championship in his first year as head coach, but the Trojans got the best of him.
From 1972-1974, the rivalry was off the charts. In 1972, then #10 Notre Dame was soundly defeated by the top-ranked Trojans, 45-23 in L.A. USC went on to win the national championship that year. The following year, Notre Dame returned the favor, as Notre Dame defeated the Trojans 23-14 on way to their own national championship.
In 1974, both teams were in the national title hunt, and it looked good early for Notre Dame. The Irish led 24-0 late in the first half, before Pat Haden found Anthony Davis for a last second touchdown. Failing to convert on the two-point conversion, USC trailed the Irish 24-6 heading into halftime. Desperately hoping to build on the momentum from the late touchdown, USC coach John McKay uncharacteristically took control of the locker room with predictions on what would happen in the second half. He told his team that they were going to take the opening kickoff and Anthony Davis was going to go 98 yards for a touchdown. From there, they would have a ballgame. Well, McKay was partially right. Davis took the opening kickoff 102 yards for a touchdown, and the floodgates opened. Over the course of 17 minutes, USC scored an amazing 49 points, blowing out the Irish 55-24. Even the Trojans were in awe of what had just transpired. Johnny McKay, son of Coach John McKay and wide receiver for the Trojans simply said, "I can't understand it. I'm gonna sit down tonight and have a beer and think about it. Against Notre Dame? Maybe against Kent State…but Notre Dame?" The Trojans catapulted in the rankings and after defeated Ohio State in the Rose Bowl, claimed another national championship. For the third year in a row, the winner of the ND-USC game had gone on to be the national champion. In what would be Ara's final season, his final national championship hopes would end just as his first had, at the hands of Troy. Ara would later say that he was livid at Notre Dame's kicker. He told him to kick it away from Anthony Davis. When Davis returned the kick, Ara said he could visually see the momentum change in the stadium.
1977 is perhaps the most memorable game in the Notre Dame-USC rivalry, at least from an Irish point of view. Notre Dame had suffered an early-season loss to Ole Miss, but was still very much in the title hunt. USC had won three consecutive against Notre Dame, and came to South Bend as the #5 ranked team in the country. The electricity on campus for that game was unrivaled. Notre Dame's campus had been draped with banners calling for the Fall of Troy, as students could not bear another loss to the hated Trojans. Unbeknownst to the students or players, Notre Dame basketball coach Digger Phelps, had suggested to coach Devine, that he bring back the green jerseys as a motivational tool against USC. Notre Dame had not worn green jerseys since a Thanksgiving game against Syracuse in 1968. So, more than four months before the USC game, coach Devine had placed an order for the famous green and gold jerseys.
The secret almost leaked at the Friday night pep rally, when Tri-Captain Willie Fry encouraged fans to wear green to the game. His rallying cry was that Notre Dame was "The Green Machine." Digger Phelps, also leading cheers at the pep rally, fired up the students chanting, "We are…the Green Machine!" None of the non-captain football players, or students had any idea what was coming next. As the team warmed up, the Irish were clad in their traditional blue jerseys. However, as they met back in the locker room for their pre-game speech, they found brand new green jerseys hanging in each locker. Bob Golic remembers his teammates tearing off their blue jerseys and almost losing it when they saw the green jerseys. In fact, the coaches feared that they might leave everything in the locker room. As the team entered the tunnel and ran onto the field, Notre Dame Stadium erupted. The players remember looking into the eyes of the USC team and knowing that the game was already over. In fact, John Robinson, coach of USC remembers the moment the Irish came out, he knew his team was in trouble. "I was trying to say who cares what color jerseys these guys are wearing, but the noise intensity was so loud in that stadium, that I could feel it on my face. They had stunned us."
Over the years, Notre Dame and USC have played in numerous classics. Whether it be the 1947 game in which #1 ranked Notre Dame defeated #3 ranked USC in front of 105,000 at the Coliseum, 38-7, or Theismann's 526 passing yards in a losing effort in 1970. Whether it be the 51-0 drubbing that Notre Dame put on USC in 1966, or the #1 v. #2 ranked battle in 1988, which featured Tony Rice against Heisman Trophy runner-up Rodney Peete, the Notre Dame v. USC rivalry has always provided fans with tremendous players and teams.
The Historical Prediction
Season Record: 1-1 (Wrong on Michigan, but correctly predicted 38 points against Navy)
Just like Ara, Charlie Weis suffered heartbreak against USC in his debut last year. Facing fourth-and-nine, Matt Leinart converted a 61-yard pass to Dwayne Jarrett, and the Trojans marched down the field for a controversial last second touchdown. In 1964 when Ara suffered his first loss to the Trojans in a similar situation, his team responded the following year with a 28-7 victory. While the scoring will probably be greater on both sides, I predict that the outcome will be the same, an Irish victory.
There is no denying that Notre Dame does not have the talent that USC has on either side of the ball. In fact, this USC team may be one of the most talented in the history of college football. However, they have not shown that they can play as a team this season. Instead they do not look in synch, and have struggled to take control of their games.
In order for Notre Dame to win, they need to outperform the Trojans in three areas. The first is along the offensive line. The Irish offensive line outweighs the Trojans by an average of 30 pounds. While the Trojans are quick, they are not as dominant as they have been in years past. If the Irish can control the line of scrimmage, it will allow Walker to gain yardage, but more importantly give Brady Quinn the time he needs to pick apart the Trojan secondary.
The second key match up is the Notre Dame passing attack against the Trojan secondary. If Quinn has time, it will be very difficult for the Trojans to stop the Notre Dame passing game. However, if Brady does not have time and turns the ball over, Notre Dame will be in trouble. If Brady can't pass, Notre Dame can't move the ball on offense. Walker is best on draws and dump passes disguised as deeper throws. If the Irish cannot throw, then USC will be able to focus on the run and shut Notre Dame down, much like Michigan did.
The final, and possibly most important match up of the game will be the Notre Dame secondary against the tall speedy receivers of the Trojans. I fully expect USC to test the Notre Dame secondary with deep throws with man-to-man coverage. I also think they will try to utilize play-action and get the Notre Dame safeties to bite on the run. The good news is that John David Booty is not Matt Leinart or Carson Palmer…at least not yet. The bad news is that the Notre Dame secondary has not done well when tested this year. They were successful against Calvin Johnson, but USC has three primetime receivers. That means a lot of nickel and dime packages for the Irish. Thank goodness Reggie is in New Orleans.
Look for a lower than normal scoring game on both sides. In reality, Notre Dame will probably have to score around 30 points to win this game. That being said, it certainly seems possible that they will do that. The Trojans have not given up much this year in terms of points, but they have not faced an offense like Notre Dame's either.
The emotional edge in this game has to go to Notre Dame. No one on this roster has ever defeated the Trojans, and the senior leaders on this squad want to make sure that ends on Saturday night. The guys that participated in the 2005 game have been salivating for a rematch, including coach Weis, ever since the clock ran out last October. If there is one side of the ball that is all about intensity and passion, it is defense. I expect Richardson, Landri, Laws, and Abiamiri to be impact players on Saturday night. In addition, Lambert will get his first crack at the Trojans as he returns to California for the first time as a starter. The defense will not be able to completely contain the Trojans, but they should have enough in the tank to keep them from simply running away with the game.
With all that being said, I expect Notre Dame to win this game. Notre Dame will undoubtedly give up a big play to Jarrett, Smith or Turner. However, I expect that they will be able to get enough pressure on Booty to keep him on his toes. Look for Notre Dame to be swarming to the ball, which could result in a turnover or two from deflected passes. Look for the Irish to come out in the two-minute offense and try to get an early lead.
The Trojans are facing a similar situation to what Notre Dame faced against Michigan earlier in the year. This is the third-straight ranked opponent that USC is facing, and eventually they will get caught. While I do not expect Notre Dame to shut down USC like Michigan did to Notre Dame, I do anticipate that Notre Dame will ride the emotions coming into the game and get out to an early lead. If they can simply trade scores from that point, they will be able to hold on to the victory, and add a 43rd shamrock to the Jeweled Shillelagh II.
ND 31-USC 20