The 2005 Notre Dame-USC game was Charlie Weis' sixth on the job. The Irish lost the game but it seemed like they were well on their way to catching up with their rivals from the West Coast. Three years later and Notre Dame has fallen further behind.
In 2006 Weis and the Irish lost to USC 44-24 before last year's 38-0 shellacking and Notre Dame heads into Los Angeles as a 30-point underdog, but Weis still sees the matchup as a rivalry.
"In almost every series like this, there's been streaks where a team will win for a while, then the other team will win for a while. You know, that's the way it goes," he said. "We still considered it a rivalry in a streak where Notre Dame won about 10 in a row, too. When you play year in and year out, there are periods where one team gets the best of the other. But, you know, at the end of the day, it usually ends up settling out."
Indeed, Notre Dame won 11 straight series matchups from 1983 to 1993 before tying 17-17 in 1994. But the Trojans have owned the rivalry in more recent history, winning the last six meetings by an average of 25.7 points.
While there may be a debate right now about where the Irish program is and where it is headed, there is no question that it wants to be where the Trojans are. Weis said that Pete Carroll has done a couple of things that have allowed USC to reach the heights that it has.
"Two things that I think they do the best. First of all, he recruits very good players, and they play with an attitude. I have a lot of respect for him on both those things," Weis said. "People think that Pete's not out there working, USC is selling itself. He's a diligent, hard-working recruiter. He pounds it now. I know I pound it, and there's a lot of guys I don't see. He's one of them I do; he's out there. He doesn't take it for granted. He doesn't take the USC status for granted. He's a hard worker in recruiting. He has his team play with an attitude. I have nothing but respect for him on those two things."
Weis has won his share of recruiting battles with Carroll, but winning this game would certainly help.
"I think that it's important mainly because we go into Southern Cal. Hey, we lose our fair battles of recruiting and we win some," he said. "When you recruit nationally like we do, the first thing you're going to have to do is get the kids to leave their home state. USC is one of multiple schools that players from California could decide to stay in California for. I think it would be a big asset in recruiting, you go out there and came out beating them."
IRISH SERIOUS DOGS: Notre Dame has not been favored in every game this season, but this is the first time that the Irish will be substantial underdogs. Weis will use another rivalry game from late in the 2007 season to show his team that it is possible.
"I'm going to reflect to a game last year at about this same time that took place between West Virginia and Pittsburgh," he said. "Pittsburgh was about a .500 team, that's about where they were. West Virginia was going to the national championship game. It was supposed to be not even close. Just go in there, let's just play this one out. West Virginia was going on to the national championship game. Next thing you know, Pittsburgh wins the game. I think there's a very live analogy as recently as last year they remember very well, which is a very good teaching tool to address that very question."
WHO HAS WEIS' BACK?: Weis is always honest with his team and he told them about what the last few days have been like for him.
"After I left the locker room, I talked about my family, I talked about recruiting, I talked about the things that I actually do," he said. "I said, ‘But at the end of the day, when it came back to Sunday morning and you're back to work, it's 4:30, you're sitting back in the office, I think it's back to: How do you bounce back? How do you bounce up? How do you get out of where you are right there?'"
For the most part, the players all said the right things about having Weis' back, but one player went beyond that in his defense of his head coach.
"As far as what everyone's saying in the media and stuff like that, they're firing away at Coach Weis. But when it comes down to it, it's not the coaches that are out there throwing the ball, running the ball, blocking, making tackles. It's the players that are out there," quarterback Jimmy Clausen said. "I think we've got to take as much responsibility for this as what everyone's putting on the coaching staff and Coach Weis."
Clausen said that he is bothered when he hears the attacks on Weis.
"It hurts a little bit. Me and Coach Weis have a great relationship. And like I said earlier, he's not the one out there making blocks, throwing passes, catching the ball, making tackles," he said. "It's none of the coaches that are out there playing. It's all the guys in the locker room and I just feel really bad for him and his family for getting all this criticism?"
HAYWOOD BACK ON THE FIELD: Offensive coordinator Michael Haywood would not discuss anything that happened when he was away last week, reportedly to interview for the head coaching position at Washington.
"I'm not at liberty to talk about any of those things that happened," he said. "I'm not at liberty to talk about anything dealing with any interviews that I've had."
Haywood did say that it was his goal to be a Division I football coach and that he would jump at a chance.
"Opportunities don't come around very often when you're sitting in my chair," he said. "There's 119 Division I schools out there so whenever you have an opportunity you have to jump at the opportunity to become a head coach."
Haywood said that he had no problem handing the play-calling duties back to Weis.
"I'm a soldier and all I do is march up the hill," he said. "Whatever I'm asked to do I do and it's just a great opportunity to be here working for Notre Dame and working for Coach Weis."
This will be Haywood's first full week back at work since Pittsburgh week as he also missed time leading up to the Navy game because of a death in his family. Now that he is back he will return to his spot on the sidelines instead of the booth where he has been for the first 11 games of the season.
"I'm coming back down on the field," he said. "I'm a hands-on guy and I'll create some excitement, some passion and some emotion. Making hands-on midstream adjustments and making sure that everybody is on the same page. I'm just looking forward to be being down there."
Weis also said that he is hoping that Haywood would help with the team's emotion by being down of the field.
"Michael is the mouth of the offense," said Weis. "He's a fired-up guy. Don't let that calm demeanor that he talks to you guys with that he's not a fiery person, because he is a fiery person."
Quarterbacks coach Ron Powlus or receivers coach Rob Ianello will replace Haywood in the booth upstairs.
IRISH TO CELEBRATE THANKSGIVING AS FAMILY: Some Notre Dame players that will not be traveling to USC will have the opportunity to go home for the weekend for Thanksgiving, but the rest of the team will eat together on Thursday afternoon.
"We put out a big Thanksgiving dinner. Trust me, no one's hurting for a Thanksgiving dinner. There's more food eaten in a half-hour span, it's for two hours, but from about 1 to 1:30, I don't know how it's humanly possible to eat any more food than they eat," Weis said. "I think by the time they're done, all they want to do is go lay on the couch and fall asleep, to tell you the truth. But it's really nice. The coaches if they choose, their families can come to dinner, the managers and everyone who is around there. Anyone who can't get out of town."
"It's basically what I miss the most is just being home and being in that family setting with everyone around and that's the things that I'll miss the most," Crum said. "The one thing I've always made a habit of doing is calling back home and calling everyone just for a few minutes almost just to imagine myself there. Just listen to the things going on in the background and just have a conversation with my family and just tell everyone I love them and I'm thankful they're in my life."
"I haven't been home for Thanksgiving in four years and I miss that family setting," said Bruton. "It just used to be my mom, my dad, my brother. Just having a good time and I always call them and have a long-winded conversation with them. For the past two years I've called home to talk to my son because I have yet to have a Thanksgiving with him. So I guess what I miss most is not having the opportunity to spend Thanksgiving with him."
Bruton said that it is difficult to be away from his son during holidays.
"It's tough. You always want to spend a family holiday with your loved ones," he said. "But I'm up here and I've got this to do. And like I've said prior to today, it's what's best for him in the long run. I'm sure I'll catch some Thanksgivings with him in the future."
Besides his family, Crum also misses the food.
"To go back in my memory, it has to be my grandmother's stuffing that she makes. And I always look forward to that," he said. "That's the first thing I put on my plate and the last thing I put on my plate. Definitely her stuffing."
Bruton and Clausen are not big fans of all of the traditional Turkey Day foods.
"Mine would have to be pumpkin pie, because I've got a sweet tooth," said Bruton. "I don't do turkey and I don't do ham."
"Mine's ham," Clausen said of his favorite Thanksgiving Day food. "I really don't like the Thanksgiving meal. But I'll just eat ham and some bread, that's pretty much it."
Despite all of the calls for his job in the media, Weis made sure to wish reporters a happy holiday.
"We talk back and forth. I know about all the negative things, but still it is Thanksgiving week," he said. "I'm not going to be talking to you on Wednesday or Thursday. So despite all those things, I still wanted to make sure that if somebody said something good, it was going to be me. So I want to make sure I wish everyone a happy Thanksgiving."