Rebirth of a rivalry

<P>You are accustomed to big games and big rivalries when you are a Notre Dame fan. It just comes with the territory. Notre Dame just brings that kind of intensity out of all of their opponents. The history of Notre Dame Football has been highlighted by many outstanding rivalries.</P>

You can point to Army in the 40's where the two teams played five games in which both teams were ranked in the top ten splitting them 2-2-1. Then there is Miami in the 80's, where they knocked each other off from the top spot in consecutive years (88 and 89). There is also Michigan State and the 66 meetings featuring the 10-10 tie in 1966 that many consider the "Game of the Century." You can also include Boston College, Navy, Purdue and Michigan as big rivalries. But none is bigger than the rivalry with USC.

The Notre Dame - USC rivalry has a ton of history. They have 18 National Championships and 11 Heisman Trophies between them. This is a series that started in 1926 and has been played 73 times since then. Notre Dame leads the series 42-26-5. Since 1926 there has only been one break in the series and that occurred from 1943-1945. They have played 28 times where both teams were ranked in the top twenty. Of those 28 times, 15 of them came when both teams were ranked in the top 10.

This is a national rivalry, with one team being from California that draws many fans from the entire western region. The other team which comes from Indiana draws its fan base from everywhere, but is concentrated in the Midwest and the Northeast. Many times in the past, this game carried national implications and determined bowl bids for many other teams. But in recent times, this game has not meant much.

Last year both teams had losing records entering the game. USC was 2-4 while Notre Dame was 2-3. It also marked the third time in five years that neither team was ranked when the game was played. Both programs looked like they were going in the wrong direction together. Both teams looked to be underachieving and poorly coached.

But what a difference a year makes. USC is 9-2 against the toughest schedule and ranked 6th in the AP and Coach's polls. They feature a heisman candidate at quarterback in Carson Palmer. They have a balance attack on offense that includes a one-two punch at running back and an outstanding freshman receiver, Mike Williams that is three yards short of a 1000 receiving yards. There defense is fast and talented.

Notre Dame enters the game with a 10-1 record against the fourth toughest schedule and is ranked 7th in the polls. They have beaten four ranked opponents in Maryland, Florida State, Pittsburgh and Michigan. They have an incredible defense that features a finalist for defensive player of the year in Shane Walton and a finalist for linebacker of the year in Courtney Watson. The offense features a game breaking wideout in Arnaz Batttle and an improving quarterback coming off of a career day in Carlyle Holiday.

This game will be played by two high quality football teams with a lot at stake. For the first time since 1989, both teams are ranked in the top 10. For the first time in many years, there is a major bowl bid at stake for both teams. Each team often goes head to head for recruits and this year is no different. Each team features a coached with Pro Football experience and players with the ability to play on Sundays.

On Saturday night, you will see a rivalry reborn because both USC and Notre Dame have returned to national prominence. And as much as fans hate the opposing team, you can't help but enjoy that both teams are highly ranked. It adds to the flavor of the game. It raises the stakes. And high stakes generate great excitement and anticipation. Strap yourselves in because you will see a game with renewed intensity from all fronts. There will be more intense fans and media. There will be more intense players and coaches. There will be a more intense game. And we haven't seen a game like this in over ten years. So sit back and enjoy because games like this don't come too often.


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