USC-Notre Dame Rivalry is Tried, But True

USC-Notre Dame isn't seen as one of the best rivalries in college football, but the history and tradition that spans more than 80 years makes it at least one of the elite.

Who will take home the Jeweled Shillelagh on Saturday?

If you don't know about the rivalry between the most winningest duo in all of college football, Notre Dame and USC, then that most unusual crooked stick bedazzled with gold emblems is probably foreign to you, too.

If you're from the midwest, you might argue the best rivalry in college football, if not all of sports, is between the Buckeyes and Wolverines.

If you're from ACC country, nothing gets you revved up more than North Carolina and Duke going head-to-head.

If you're from the West, you might argue the best competition lies between the public and private L.A. schools, that of UCLA and USC.

And of course there will be those who look to other sports' rivalries in the Yanks and Sox, Celtics-Lakers and so on.

But any potential rivalry in baseball is dormant for another year, as none will contend for this year's World Series (blame the Boston Fried Chicken, perhaps?). And because of the NBA lockout, a sports fan is left to soak up the traditions built on turf, ice and dirt rather than a hardcourt.

All of the above are factors that have set the future meeting between the USC Trojans (5-1) and Notre Dame Fighting Irish (4-2) as the rivalry to watch this season.

Established well over 80 years ago, this rivalry may be as well-documented as others before it, but it definitely isn't as well-understood.

People expect proximity to produce the most heated college rivalries, vís a vís Michigan and Michigan State's enormous hype last weekend or the Red River Rivalry which corrals fans from around the country into the Cotton Bowl for an annual fried-food heaven.

So the USC-Notre Dame rivalry begs the question: How did a midwestern state like Indiana and the glamourous state of California develop such a historical matchup?

The establishment of this rivalry is mainly folklore, with a couple sound theories in the mix about the wives of the university's then-head coaches. But regardless of the "why," let's break down the "what" ahead of next week's battle in South Bend, Ind. because history won't tell us Saturday's winner, despite the Fighting Irish leading the Trojans in an all time record of 43-33-5.

When the Trojans (5-1) find themselves in Irish (4-2) territory, a battle will ensue that has the potential to be both exposing and messy.

For starters, the two universities that possess equal strengths in academics and athletics aren't just famous for being private, but for being elite.

USC and Notre Dame have the most combined national championships of any two schools, with 21 (including the Bush asterisk). Players from both schools have also won more combined Heisman Trophies (14 total) and All-Americans than any other two schools.

Secondly, many top recruits in the past decade have narrowed their college choice down to these two schools. The Irish nabbed quarterback Jimmy Clausen, linebackers Manti Te'o and Troy Niklas, while the Trojans got prized receiver Kyle Prater, running back Reggie Bush and offensive lineman Butch Lewis. Both schools' rich history, privatized education and NFL-production are the obvious factors that bring great recruits to each respective university. But why one player chooses Notre Dame over USC or vice versa is just another factor that adds fuel to this rivalry's fire.

Third point of note, the two men currently at the helm have taken quite different paths to get to their current position. You could say the elder, Notre Dame's Brian Kelly (13 years Kiffin's senior), has had the more blue-collar career, assisting at a NCAA Division-II school, where he eventually made his way to the top as head coach of Cincinnati and now Notre Dame. Lane Kiffin, on the other hand, was just 25 when he had his first assistant coaching gig in the NFL, eventually leading the Oakland Raiders as head coach at 32 after serving as USC's offensive coordinator, where he has now presumed head coaching duties. The paradox between the two coaches parallels the contrast of upbringings that fans cling to; on one side is the midwesterners' defense-dominant program and the other is captured by the crop of strong arms and solid backs that emerge from the west coast.

And finally, this rivalry endures partly because of the public figures surrounding it. Notre Dame has the second-highest amount of players inducted into the Hall of Fame with 10 whereas USC leads that list with 11. While Joe Montana is the only quarterback on both lists, both schools each produced an especially rare player: Notre Dame's Paul Hornung and USC's O.J. Simpson were first overall NFL draft picks, Hall of Famers and Heisman Trophy winners (only Texas' Earl Campbell has also accomplished this triple feat). For the rivalry's cherry, current USC athletic director Pat Haden was a former NBC announcer exclusively for Notre Dame games.

As the rosters' change each year, the coaches move in and out, and the schemes vary over time, what remains is both teams' passion and respect for an enduring tradition.

And of course, the passion will still be there, as it resonates within each man as he steps into the lights of Notre Dame Stadium for the Irish's first night game at home in 21 years.

Like the many memories this rivalry has created over the past three generations, it will be a night many will never forget.

Except maybe when it comes to the name of that trophy.


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