They should also hope to play a team that doesn't like to sling the football.
The Gator Bowl committee has to be ecstatic after the Irish failed to cash in on a few opportunities the superior Trojans (10-1) gave them in what was another bad loss. Taking its second 20-point whipping of the season, Notre Dame (10-2) will have to cross its fingers and hope one of the big-money bowls comes a calling, even if some don't think the Irish deserve to be selected.
Notre Dame showed heart in Los Angeles, but that couldn't make up for the lack of speed and defensive talent on the field. The Irish continue to prove the experts right when it comes to the speed word and not being able to hang with the big boys.
The Irish looked like they were playing in slow motion on defense the first quarter and a half, and the scoreboard quickly read 21-3. Notre Dame fans had to think they've seen this game before.
Dwayne Jarrett joined what has become a long line of receivers that have toasted the Notre Dame secondary, scoring two quick touchdowns, finishing the night with seven receptions for 133 yards and three touchdowns. The Irish surrendered 266 passing yards overall.
When it seemed like things could get real ugly, the Irish hung in there and made a game out of it in the second quarter. Steve Quinn's block of a USC punt inside the 10-yard line midway through the quarter set up ND's first score.
USC quarterback John David Booty tore up the Notre Dame defense on the first four possessions (6-of-7 passing for 91 yards at two touchdowns), but the junior started playing like his last name and gave the Irish a chance. Two interceptions thrown by Booty, one by Mike Richardson and the other by Trevor Laws gave the Irish great chances to score and climb back into the game, but failing to convert on fourth down ended both drives. The money down all year for head coach Charlie Weis didn't pay off on Saturday night (2-for-7).
Brady Quinn (21-of-44, 268 yards, three touchdowns, team-leading 73 yards rushing) showed the poise and big-play ability that makes him the top-quarterback prospect in the NFL Draft, but was let down by Rhema McKnight and the guys around him on Saturday. McKnight's three drops in the first half, were the biggest reason the Irish failed to get back into the game.
In the third quarter, the Trojans' offense found their rhythm again, scoring on the first possession of the second half to go up 28-10. Quinn did what he could to keep it a game, but USC was way too talented for the Irish.
Charlie Weis always says a team is remembered by its last game. The Irish are remembered by all their games against top-ranked opponents. They still don't have the speed on defense to stop a talented passing attack.
If the Irish have to play a team in the bowl, whatever bowl that may be, that is efficient at throwing the football, the bowl losing streak will extend to nine. While Weis has done a good job in winning 10 games in back-to-back seasons, the Irish are still light years from playing with the nation's elite.
While this team isn't playing as well as the nation's elite, it's because of this team, and mainly the senior class, that the return to the top for the Irish is inevitable. Quinn's Heisman candidacy and the back-to-back 10-win seasons have brought excitement back to a program that was in danger of slipping into its worst state ever. The last two seasons have validated Weis as a head coach, and along with his professional accolades, have given him the opportunity to land some of the nation's best recruits. A couple more top-five recruiting classes and Weis's dynasty will begin to develop.
But back to the now, the Irish's current situation is similar to the one back in 1998, with BCS hopes being dashed in Los Angeles. A 9-1 Irish team suffered a 10-0 defeat at the hands of a mediocre Trojans' team, dropping a BCS-eligible team to the Gator Bowl. If that were to happen in 2006 to a team that has prided itself on a return to glory, that hurts more than the beating applied by the Trojans.
A BCS invite, is one more opportunity to prove they belong.