O/NSO - Notre Dame preview

The University of Southern California Trojans (5-1), the nation's fifth-ranked team, travel Saturday to the Mecca of college football lore, South Bend, Indiana, for another legendary gridiron battle with the unranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish (2-3), in the 75th game of the country's most storied intersectional rivalry.

The Obvious – The University of Southern California Trojans (5-1), the nation's fifth-ranked team, travel Saturday to the Mecca of college football lore, South Bend, Indiana, for another legendary gridiron battle with the unranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish (2-3), in the 75th game of the country's most storied intersectional rivalry.

The Not So Obvious – Notre Dame Stadium has been traditionally a Stephen King football House of Horrors for the USC Trojans. Much like deceased Boston Garden bewitched the Lakers, windy Candlestick Park swallowed the Dodgers, and Minnesota's Metropolitan Stadium froze the once Los Angeles Rams, Notre Dame Stadium can be the graveyard of victory dreams as the Washington State Cougars found out in early September.

The Obvious – Winning at Notre Dame has been difficult for the Trojans as the Irish hold a home field advantage of 23-9-1.

The Not So Obvious – At the Coliseum, however, the Trojans hold the advantage 18-17-4.

The Obvious – Any Notre Dame player who says that the Irish aren't still feeling the sting of last year's 44-13 game must be a master diplomat.

The Not So Obvious – "The USC game is obviously a huge rivalry," said Notre Dame senior safety Glenn Earl, a master diplomat. "To call it a revenge game really doesn't do it justice because the rivalry itself is justice enough. Anything else is second-tier."

The Obvious – Over the years, Trojan coaches have looked for some sort of travel ideas and plans that might help in trying to defeat the Irish on their home turf.

The Not So Obvious – The Trojans leave on their trip to the Midwest Thursday afternoon on their Delta charter and arrive that evening in South Bend. Taking note from his past experience to Notre Dame and making some changes, Pete Carroll will have his team stay in Michigan City. The Trojans will fly out of South Bend after the game.

The Obvious – For Trojan fans traveling to the game without tickets, the Notre Dame game ticket is usually one of the toughest to secure, but there are usually scalpers along the exit routes of the Indiana Toll Road leading towards Notre Dame Stadium.

The Not So Obvious – The Notre Dame ticket office received 54,244 ticket requests for Saturday's game again the Trojans, making it the fourth-highest requested home game in Irish history.

The Obvious – The ticket price for rival UCLA this year at the Coliseum is $60.00.

The Not So Obvious – The ticket price for Notre Dame in South Bend on Saturday is $48.00.

The Obvious – Last weekend against Stanford, the Trojans played recruiting host to lineman Jeff Byers of Loveland, Colorado, considered by many to be the No.1 recruit in the country.

The Not So Obvious – According to this week's Blue and Gold Illustrated, the fine publication that covers Notre Dame football and a number credible outlets, Jeff Byers is scheduled for his final official recruiting visit with the Irish for this weekend's USC game. Californians also scheduled to make their official ND recruiting trip for Saturday's game are defensive end Phillip Mbakogu from Hayward and linebacker Anthony Vernaglia from Orange, who committed to ND in August.

The Obvious – The Trojans opened as 10-point favorites to defeat the Irish.

The Not So Obvious – By mid-week, those odds were trimmed to 8 1/2. Blue and Gold Illustrated predicts a 23-20 Trojan victory.

The Obvious – There have been stretches when the Irish win streak over the Trojans seemed to go on forever, but the longest streak was 11 games during the Lou Holtz era between 1983-93.

The Not So Obvious – The longest Trojan win streak over the Irish is five during the span of 1978-82.

The Obvious – Besides having good football players and coaches, one of the challenges of defeating the Fighting Irish is the perception that they rarely lose in South Bend.

The Not So Obvious – It is not impossible to defeat the Irish at Notre Dame Stadium, and we saw it accomplished in person in 1997 when Adam Abrams connected on a 37-yard field with 1:05 to play, giving the Trojans their first win in South Bend since 1981.

The Obvious – There is always the illusion that Notre Dame always beats the Trojans, something they did do with regularity under Lou Holtz in the 90's.

The Not So Obvious – USC, however, has also beaten Notre Dame more times (27) than any other Irish opponent.

The Obvious – At a 5-1 record, the Trojans are off to their best start since the John Robinson 1995 team began 6-0.

The Not So Obvious – Would you like to guess who administered the 1995 USC team their first loss and where? Yep, it was the Irish in Notre Dame Stadium that hammered the Trojans 38-10 behind a thunderous ground attack led by fullback Marc Edwards. Even the ESPN Game Day trio was there doing their schtick.

The Obvious – There are a number of factors that make winning so tough at Notre Dame, and it usually is a rough and tumble Irish team that is the main factor.

The Not So Obvious – The one factor that strangely is not a major factor is crowd noise. Oh the students are spirited, but no more so than Trojan students, but it is more the environment from seeing the Golden Dome, the autumn leaves,"Touchdown Jesus", the beautiful campus, and the aura that is Notre Dame football on a mid-October afternoon.

The Obvious – Another factor that normally makes playing Notre Dame so tough is who the Irish coach is at the time.

The Not So Obvious – Having attended the Notre Dame Friday pep rally for the past several years, believe me, there is a difference between Lou Holtz delivering the emotional speech to a capacity Athletic and Convocation Center (ACC) than say a mild Tyrone Willingham. Holtz was a master in instilling Notre Dame spirit and some fear.

The Obvious – Having been to the last number of Trojan games at Notre Dame Stadium, the most unpredictable factor can be the Midwest weather.

The Not So Obvious – One year we came back from Notre Dame Stadium with a sun tan, and two years later Notre Dame Stadium was like an ice box with snow, rain, and wind. The weather prediction for Saturday's afternoon game is for mostly sunny skies and temperatures in the mid-50's.

The Obvious – Last Saturday evening in Pittsburgh, the Irish upset the No. 15 Panthers at Heinz Field, 20-14, which refueled ND's hope of completely ruining the Trojans' dreams of a national title and turning their own corner.

The Not So Obvious – You can bet the entire Notre Dame student population will be more than up for the Trojans as this game, which has suddenly turned into the make or break moment for Ty Willingham's 2003 season.

The Obvious – The Trojans' quarterback can expect a savage rush from Irish defensive coordinator Greg Mattison, who will certainly direct his veteran unit to go after the fragile Leinart and get to the inexperienced Booty.

The Not So Obvious – Who would have thunk it that USC and Notre Dame could and would be playing true freshman quarterbacks? The Irish will start frosh Brady Quinn, and the Trojans could end up playing counterpoint John David Booty .

The Obvious – Notre Dame freshman quarterback Brady Quinn (6-4, 210) will be facing a Trojan defense that has had one interception in each of the past 16 games.

The Not So Obvious – So far this year, Brady Quinn, a prep All-American from Dublin, Ohio, has thrown 6 interceptions (he threw only four interceptions his senior year) his inaugural Irish season. The kid has thrown two touchdown passes and throws at a 42.7 completion clip, not yet evoking memories of Joe Montana.

The Obvious – Pete Carroll is getting high-fives for taking his all his seniors to South Bend for a trip of a lifetime. Certainly the seniors know the meaning of the game, and you can bet those seniors are giving the attending freshmen a history lesson.

The Not So Obvious – "You know this is a big rivalry the day you sign that Letter of Intent," said Brady Quinn, the Irish starting freshman quarterback. "You know that is the game that has circles on the schedule. I'm excited to have this opportunity."

The Obvious – The key to the game will be the two offensive lines that will try and dent the other's defense, something the Trojans did with a great deal of efficiency (185 yds.) against the Irish in Los Angeles last year.

The Not So Obvious – While the Trojans seem to be gaining some offensive line continuity, the Irish have had big problems until last week when they shuffled their unit and started true freshman Ryan Harris at right tackle, moving right tackle Dan Stevenson to right guard.

The Obvious – Trojan kicker Ryan Killeen seems to be in a good-timing groove in field goals, extra points, an d kickoffs.

The Not So Obvious – Irish kicker Nick Setta, who has made his last nine field goal attempts, is "out" due to injury according to coach Willingham and will be replaced by D.J. Fitzpatrick, a junior from Granger, Indiana.

The Obvious – Notre Dame freshman offensive tackle Ryan Harris was on his USC recruiting visit last season when the Trojans hosted the Irish in the Coliseum.

The Not So Obvious – Harris was one of many recruits that memorable Coliseum evening that did the "Trojan Walk" along with current starting Florida quarterback Chris Leak.

The Obvious – The Trojans All-Pac-10 linebacker Matt Grootegoed will probably play after being injured from an alleged cheap shot during last Saturday's Stanford game.

The Not So Obvious – Pound for pound, Grootegoed may be the best player on the Trojan team. However, don't discount his replacement Dallas Startz, who brings a lot of talent to the table and will be no slouch for Troy at linebacker.

The Obvious – The Irish offense was revived last week with the rushing explosion of senior tailback Julius Jones, who ran for a Notre Dame single-game record 262 yards and had two touchdown runs of 49 and 25 yards in the upset of Pitt.

The Not So Obvious – In a good way, Jones will get the attention of the Trojans' defense, which may not have been the case if Ryan Grant was the Irish starter. Last year the Trojans held Grant and the Irish to 39 yards rushing.

The Obvious – There will be a large turnout of Trojan fans, including your humble correspondent and the Mrs., and most will be confused about the kickoff time in South Bend.

The Not So Obvious – For you first-timers to South Bend, the kickoff will be at 1:30 p.m. Chicago time. Forget about East Coast time and time changes. Once you get to Chicago, up your watch two hours to Central Time and leave it at that.

The Obvious – Most Trojan fans will be staying in Chicago and will make the trip to South Bend the morning of the game.

The Not So Obvious – It takes about 1 1/2 hours to get to South Bend or just think of it as driving from Orange County to Palm Springs. Still freaked out? Just get on the Dan Ryan Expressway (Route 94) south and enter on to the Skyway exit off the Dan Ryan and remain on Route 90 to the Indiana Toll Road. Eventually this merges with Route 80. Get off at Exit 77 (South Bend/Notre Dame) and just follow the signs.

The Obvious – You will see a number of pay stations along the way, so you might want to bring some change. The beautiful autumn Indiana scenery makes up for monetary inconvenience along the way.

The Not So Obvious – Once you enter off of Exit 77, it's like heading into a flat Rose Bowl, a two-lane highway and plenty of scalpers. Just follow the crowd, but remember to leave your Chicago hotel by 9:00 a.m. or you'll enter the Ulcer Traffic Zone approaching the home of the Golden Dome.

The Obvious – Pete Carroll has preferred to take each game as a big game and tries not to place any greater emphasis on any particular opponent.

The Not So Obvious – Normally coaches try and hide their real feelings from the media for each opponent, but not Notre Dame defensive coordinator Kent Baer who says last year's loss to the Trojans still lingers. Baer said, "That game is part of my memory for 11 months."

The Obvious – The Trojans and the Irish have sent many players to the NFL in the glorious history of the two schools.

The Not So Obvious – USC and Notre Dame rank No.1 and No. 2 respectively in NFL first-round draft picks as the Trojans have had 62 first-round picks and ND 58 selections.

The Obvious – Saturday's game will be televised on NBC, Channel 4, at 11:30 a.m., and Trojan fans will again be treated to the wisdom of former Trojan quarterback Pat Haden, who will provide the color commentary with Tom Hammond providing the play-by-play.

The Not So Obvious – USC and Notre Dame have played in four of the six top-rated televised college football games of all-time, with the highest rating (22.9 share) coming during the 1968 season when the two teams tied 21-21 on ABC in the Coliseum.

The Obvious – There are no players on the Trojans roster from the state of Indiana.

The Not So Obvious – There are seven players on the Notre Dame roster from California including locals Freddie Parish (DB-LB Poly), James Bonelli (OL-Camarillo St. Bonaventure), Chris Frome (DL-Saugus Hart), and Rhema McKnight (WR-La Palma Kennedy).

The Obvious – The Notre Dame defense ranks 14th in the country.

The Not So Obvious – If ever there was a game that Pete Carroll and Norm Chow wanted injured tight end Dominique Bryd, the Notre Dame game would be the one. It will be interesting to see how the Trojans brains adjust to the sudden famine at tight end.

The Obvious – One of the most athletic players on the ND roster is wide receiver Rhema McKnight, the sophomore from La Palma Kennedy.

The Not So Obvious – A fabulous athlete, McKnight is averaging 9.8 yards per reception and has scored two touchdowns. Due to the weak play of the Irish quarterback situation, McKnight's talents have been barely scratched. This kid had NFL written all over him coming out of high school. He was also a premier basketball player.

The Obvious – The Irish tried to defeat the Trojans last season with quarterback Carlyle Holiday, who threw for 70 yards in the USC rout of Notre Dame

The Not So Obvious – Don't be surprised to see Holiday also at receiver. It will be interesting to see if Irish coach Tyrone Willingham will stick with Irish freshman Brady Quinn if things go bad or will he turn to senior Holiday for one more Irish miracle.

The Obvious – The Trojans' offense and special teams will again be challenged by ND's Vontez Duff (6-1, 194), the Irish's most dynamic defensive player in the secondary and very dangerous punt returner.

The Not So Obvious – One important duel will be between USC punter Tom Malone and his ability to make it tough for kick returner Duff. Hang time will be paramount. Will Malone out-kick his coverage, thus allowing the lethal Duff to head up field or will Malone be instructed to angle the ball out of bounds?

The Obvious – The South Bend Tribune is the local paper that covers the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and does a weekly poll of fans predicting Irish games.

The Not So Obvious – At mid-week, 38% predicted the Irish would win by less than seven points, and 27% voted USC by at least 14 points.

The Obvious – One of the greatest quarterbacks for the Irish is former All-American Joe Theisman.

The Not So Obvious – Notre Dame will honor Theisman during Saturday's game recognizing his induction into the College Football Hall of Fame located in South Bend.

The Obvious – For local Trojan fans that want to have something to do during NBC commercial breaks and halftime, there are some other Pac-10 games of interest on the tube.

The Not So Obvious – For those that need to follow those Pac-10 proceedings on your 42-inch HDTV screen, upstart Cal will be at rabbit's foot UCLA (12:30 p.m., ABC) and trainwreck Washington travels to contender Oregon State (7:00 p.m., TBS).

The Obvious – So here come the Irish and here comes another four hours of intense entertainment for both those lucky folks who have ducats for Saturday's game and for college football fans across the country.

The Not So Obvious – It's no secret that many of those neutral fans can't stand either Notre Dame or USC because of their legendary success and wish they could both lose. However, that's not going to be the case. Somebody is going to win and that long team Delta charter back to Los Angeles from Indiana becomes mighty comfortable when you've beaten Notre Dame in South Bend, not to mention for those of us that are taking that one-stop America West extravaganza.

USCFootball.com Top Stories