O/NSO - Notre Dame preview edition

When the USC Trojans (10-0) are the number one team in the country and the bowl-bound Notre Dame Fighting Irish (6-4) arrive in Los Angeles with every intention of crushing the Trojans' national championship dream, Saturday night's 76th renewal of the nation's greatest intersectional rivalry has all the BCS Thanksgiving trimmings of a Coliseum battle royal.

The Obvious – When the USC Trojans (10-0) are the number one team in the country and the bowl-bound Notre Dame Fighting Irish (6-4) arrive in Los Angeles with every intention of crushing the Trojans' national championship dream, Saturday night's 76th renewal of the nation's greatest intersectional rivalry has all the BCS Thanksgiving trimmings of a Coliseum battle royal.

The Not So Obvious – Having already beaten former Top 10 residents Michigan and Tennessee, this Notre Dame team truly believes the Trojans have been on borrowed time, despite the fact that the Trojans have beaten the Irish the last two outings by a combined score of 89-27. This will be the fourth time the Fighting Irish have played a number one Trojan team and the combined score of those three previous Trojan victories is 91-30.

The Obvious – When either USC or Notre Dame have been ranked number one, the fabled Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum has been historically a house of horrors for the Fighting Irish.

The Not So Obvious – Unbeaten and untied Irish teams have gone down to national championship disasters three times (1938, 1964, 1970) with a painful tie in 1948. Defeating a number one Trojan team in the Grand Old Lady has been an historical Irish nightmare losing 25-0 in 1962 and 45-23 in 1974. Even beating a top-ranked Troy team in South Bend ended in disaster 24-7 in 1967.

The Obvious – The Trojans opened a whopping 21-point favorite to make it three wins in a row over the Irish.

The Not So Obvious – Even in a poll conducted by the hometown South Bend Tribune, 66% of voters felt the Irish would lose by 14 points or more.

The Obvious - If you believe the Men of Troy will come in overconfident, remember that this year's seniors will be honored prior to the game by running through the Heritage Tunnel.

The Not So Obvious - You can bet the likes of seniors Shaun Cody, Mike Patterson, Matt Grootegoed, and Alex Holmes will make sure the Trojans are more than ready to go. For those Tunnel 13 Thundering Herd enthusiasts, you might hear a little louder "War Time" chant as the Cardinal and Gold come down the tunnel for the last home game of the season. Despite the best efforts of Pete Carroll and staff to take each opponent equally, when the Coliseum throng sees the Trojans coming down the ramp, they will let the nation's number one know it's Irish rivalry time.

The Obvious – The weather forecast for Saturday is for mostly cloudy skies with a high of 67 and a low of 47.

The Not So Obvious - The real whether is if the Irish are affected by a Coliseum atmosphere that figures to be more supercharged than even the Irish are accustomed in Los Angeles. Notre Dame, however, has played before sellouts 34 of its last 36 games.

The Obvious – Thanks to some highly successful in-game ideas, marketing strategies, and the usual attendance perks from being the best in the country, the Coliseum atmosphere this season has been unusually intimidating for the previous five Trojan victims.

The Not So Obvious - ND's leading tackler Mike Goolsby, the stellar Irish middle linebacker, says, " The Coliseum is a great venue and it is traditionally a place you see on ESPN Classic, so I am looking forward to playing in this game. This year we play our best when our back are against the walls and we have nothing to lose."

The Obvious – Saturday night's game will be televised nationally at 5:00 p.m. (PST) on ABC with Keith Jackson, Dan Fouts, and Todd Harris.

The Not So Obvious – With a potential national title bid at stake, we are reminded that USC and Notre Dame have played in four of the six top-ranked television games of all-time, the highest in 1968 when the two rival powerhouses played to a 21-21 tie, which drew a 22.9 share on ABC. Heck, even in the movie "Rudy", his Midwest family was gathered around the television to watch the Trojans and the Irish from Los Angeles.

The Obvious - It figures that with Saturday night's game a salute to Trojan tailback legend and Irish nightmare Anthony Davis, ND fans will get want to pass the blue and gold Kool-Aid every time ABC shows highlights of old No. 28's personal destruction of Coach Ara Parseghian's clubs.

The Not So Obvious - Notre Dame fans going to the Coliseum will be sure to be one of the first 20,000 to receive a free Anthony Davis trading card. Might we also expect an A.D. pre-game speech to his beloved Trojans? Don't bet against it.

The Obvious – The Trojans, who are averaging a record-setting 83,752 fans per home game, will break their own home attendance record on Saturday night if over 85, 000 come through the turnstiles.

The Not So Obvious - This will be the 13th Trojan-Irish sellout in the Coliseum.

The Obvious – Trojan coach Pete Carroll is the toast of Los Angeles, but there is always the Trojan fan paranoia that if the Cardinal and Gold go unscathed the rest of the way, Coach Charisma might think about a return to the NFL.

The Not So Obvious – Notre Dame coach Tyrone Willingham, who is 0-2 against the Trojans as the Irish head mentor, is getting no love back in South Bend. In a South Bend Tribune coach's poll, ninety-percent said, "Yes, this season should be the last for Willingham."

The Obvious – As head coach of the Trojans, Pete Carroll has a dynamic 12-0 record in November.

The Not So Obvious – As head coach of the Irish, Tyrone Willingham has a 7-4 record in November.

The Obvious – The game will feature two high-profile quarterbacks in the Trojans' junior Heisman candidate Matt Leinart (6-5, 225) and improving Irish sophomore Brady Quinn (6-4, 221).

The Not So Obvious – While Leinart has thrown for 23 touchdowns and a completion rate of 65%, Quinn has tossed 14 touchdowns and has connected on 53% of his passes. The biggest difference is in interceptions as Leinart has been picked off five times and Quinn nine times.

The Obvious – Notre Dame returns a tough front seven on defense that allows tough going on the ground.

The Not So Obvious – The Trojans last year ripped the Irish for 551 yards in total offense, 195 of those yards on the ground. Who can forget Reggie Bush's sterling 58-yard run on a counter-pitch play? LenDale White also pounded out 75 yards in 16 carries.

The Obvious – Prior to coming to Los Angeles, the Irish will have had their helmets sprayed with that wonderful gold as is their tradition.

The Not So Obvious – It is always a treat for a Coliseum night game between these two old foes when the lights seem to dance and glisten on the Notre Dame golden helmets and the metallic red of the Trojans' helmets appear on fire.

The Obvious – There are many schools of thought by Trojan opponents on how to slow down the 2004 USC offense.

The Not So Obvious – Notre Dame coach Ty Willingham believes there is one central artery in the Trojan attack. This week Willingham said, "You still have to start with the run because one of the major differences that has made this team (USC) a better team is that they have a physical runner at that tailback position. And that's what (Lendale) White gives them. He gives them almost, in my opinion, their soul, their heart, the drumbeat of that football team. If you can stop that, now you're better able to focus on some of the other areas."

The Obvious – The Irish will try on do a Cal-style ball control offense to keep the Trojans' offense off the field and use the clock to make it a shorter game.

The Not So Obvious – If there is one area that the Irish will have trouble on both sides of the ball, it will be team speed. The fact of the matter is that the Men of Troy are just plain faster than the lads from South Bend. The Trojans' speed will literally speed up the Irish beyond their wishes.

The Obvious – The Trojans continue to be the nation's number one team and received 48 first-place votes in both the ESPN Coaches Poll and the Associated Press, down by three first-place votes in each poll from the previous week.

The Not So Obvious – Thanks to their crushing 41-38 loss to Pittsburgh at Notre Dame Stadium two weeks ago, the Irish have departed the Top 25 and received no votes this week in either poll, not even a single "others receiving votes."

The Obvious – One of the greatest Irish offensive performers was Raghib "Rocket" Ishmail, who now works with ESPN's GameDay.

The Not So Obvious – There are many in the college football world who are comparing The Rocket with Reggie Bush, Mr. Lightening. Both gamebreakers in their particular era share the same devastation by lining up at times in the backfield, wide receiver, and special teams.

The Obvious – Last year, the Trojans gave a recruiting push for current Irish freshman running back star Darius Walker (5-11, 200), who had an outstanding prep career out of Lawrenceville Buford High in Georgia.

The Not So Obvious – Walker, who averages 4.2 yards per carry and has six touchdown, has shown good ability in his Irish performances this season as evidenced by his earlier two-touchdown and 115-yard outing against Michigan. Young Walker, whose father Jimmy played DL for Lou Holtz at Arkansas, should be closely watched, especially when he confronts a sold-out Coliseum throng and one linebacker by the name of Matt Grootegoed.

The Obvious – The Trojans offense, under coordinator Norm Chow, averages 37.1 points per game.

The Not So Obvious – The Irish defense, under defensive coordinator Kent Baer, allows 21.0 points per game.

The Obvious – The Irish front seven on defense is considered the strength of this year's Notre Dame squad, a nice little challenge for Norm Chow.

The Not So Obvious –On Fred Roggin's 1540 radio show, Roggin had former Trojan All-America quarterback and NBC analyst on Notre Dame telecasts Pat Haden as a guest. When Norm Chow's name came up, Haden said, " He is the greatest offensive coordinator I have seen in my forty years of following college football. He always seems to get receivers wide open."

The Obvious – It has not been the smoothest of season for Trojans senior kicker Ryan Killeen, who has converted just 7 of 16 field goal attempts for a 43.8 percentage.

The Not So Obvious – The Irish could burn the Trojans with senior kicker D.J. Fitzpatrick, who has connected on 11 of 14 field goal attempts. Fitzpatrick is especially dangerous in the mid-40-yard range (4/5) while Killeen has been successful (3/5) in the mid-30-yard range.

The Obvious – There is nothing like the environment of a Trojan-Irish game in South Bend.

The Not So Obvious – However, for pure stadium energy, there is nothing like these two battling in the Coliseum, especially with the Irish fans waving those flags and Trojan fans dressed in cardinal and shaking their cardinal and gold pompoms.

The Obvious – The Trojans and the Irish feature dangerous receivers in Troy's freshman sensation Dwayne Jarrett (6-5, 195) and Irish junior Rhema McKnight. (6-1, 215)

The Not So Obvious – Jarrett , from New Brunswick, New Jersey, and McKnight, from local La Palma Kennedy HS in Orange County, have proved they are both future Sunday players. Jarrett has scored 10 times and averages 15.1 yards per reception while McKnight has scored two touchdowns and averages 13.8 yards per grab. They are both are quite similar as these super athletes were outstanding basketball players in high school.

The Obvious – The Trojans are excited about the return of outstanding sophomore receiver Steve Smith, who is coming off a leg injury suffered in the Cal game, and sophomore Chris McFoy, who is also coming off the injury list.

The Not So Obvious – Although he has not gotten the same type of hype of a Steve Smith, the Irish have actually relied on senior Matt Shelton (6-0, 175) for much of their big-play receiving exploits. The former Collierville, Tennessee, star is averaging 29.7 yards per catch with a 53-yard reception to his credit.

The Obvious – Both offenses feature outstanding tight end performers in the Trojans' duo of junior Dominique Byrd (6-3, 260) and senior Alex Holmes (6-3, 270) and Notre Dame in junior Anthony Fasano (6-4, 256).

The Not So Obvious – Coverage on the other's tight ends may go a long way in determining how competitive this game will be played. Trojan fans should remember the athletic two-yard touchdown grab last year by Fasano, who is second on the team with 24 catches for 329 yards and three touchdowns. The former Verona High star out of New Jersey was a 12-sport varsity letterman in football (4), basketball (2), baseball (4), and track (2).

The Obvious – The Irish offense, under coordinator Bill Diedrick, averages 25.8 points per game.

The Not So Obvious – The Trojans defense, under Pete Carroll, allows 11.6 points per game.

The Obvious – The Trojans' vaunted defense has sacked the quarterback 42 times this year compared to 36 muggings last season.

The Not So Obvious – Last year in South Bend, the Trojans had four sacks of Irish quarterback Brady Quinn, two coming by way of defensive tackle Mike Patterson.

The Obvious - Protecting Irish quarterback Brady Quinn is an Irish offensive line that features no less than three former Parade All-Americans.

The Not So Obvious – It should also be noted that this line surprisingly is one of the most ineffective ND rushing attacks in its fabled history. For the record, should Trojan injured senior left guard John Drake return to start, the USC offensive line would feature no Parade All-Americans.

The Obvious – In the second half of the Arizona win at the Coliseum two weeks ago, the Trojans' offensive line really flexed its muscles in dominating the Wildcats.

The Not So Obvious – The Irish defensive line will be a big challenge for the Trojans' improving, young offensive line unit. In senior left defensive end Justin Tuck (6-5, 261), the Irish all-time leader in sacks (24.5) and potential first-round pick, and junior nose tackle Derek Landri (6-2, 278) , the former Concord De La Salle star, a lot of the Trojans' offensive production will be coined depending on controlling these two Domers.

The Obvious - Look for a major battle between Trojans' right tackle Taitusi Lutui and Notre Dame's left defensive end Justin Tuck.

The Not So Obvious – Perhaps the most stealth battle in the middle of the pit, however, will be between Trojans' sophomore center Ryan Kalil (6-4, 270) from Servite and De La Salle's Landry, both former parochial school California all-stars. This one could be a juicer and could go a long way in how the Trojans' rushing game performs.

The Obvious – The Irish have one crazy middle linebacker in 5th year senior Mike Goolsby (6-4, 242), whose had an inconsistent career due to injuries.

The Not So Obvious – It will be intriguing to see how Trojan guards Jeff Byers, John Drake, and Fred Matua respond to the confident Goolsby, a former Parade All-American, who was an all-everything linebacker out of Joliet, Illinois, and figures to be a future Sunday performer. Never lacking confidence, after the heartbreaking 41-38 loss to Pittsburgh, Goolsby said, " Honestly, we've just got to beat USC. I fully intend on doing that and the team intends on doing that, so we'll get over this hill."

The Obvious – In their last loss against Pittsburgh, Panther quarterback Tyler Palko passed for an Irish opponent record five touchdowns.

The Not So Obvious – The Trojans figure to use the height and jumping advantage of Dwayne Jarrett (6-5) when matched against smallish Irish corners Preston Jackson (5-9, 180) and Dwight Ellick (5-10, 185).

The Obvious – The Trojans offense averages 434.8 yards per outing.

The Not So Obvious – The Irish offense averages 357.0 yards per outing.

The Obvious – The Trojans strong safety Darnell Bing has blossomed into the headhunting defender that Pete Carroll envisioned when he hotly pursed the former Long Beach Poly star during Bing's senior year.

The Not So Obvious – Trojan fans should watch Irish senior free safety Quentin Burrell (6-0, 195), who will have the difficult responsibility of monitoring quarterback Matt Leinart and controlling LenDale White and Reggie Bush. Just in case the Irish are looking for a knockout blow of Bush, they can turn to sophomore strong safety Tom Zbikowski (5-11, 202), who was a Golden Gloves boxer with a 60-13 record.

The Obvious – This will be a monster recruiting weekend for the Trojans as recruiting coordinator Ed Orgeron, the famed Trojan defensive line coach, will wine and dine national recruits from across the nation and a number of local area studs.

The Not So Obvious – Last season at Notre Dame Stadium, Trojan freshman offensive guard prodigy Jeff Byers was on his ND recruiting trip and walked with the Irish team from church to the stadium. This year, the tables figured to be turned as the Trojans welcome New Jersey linebacker stud Brian Cushing (6-3, 220), who figures to participate in the Trojan Walk to the Coliseum after an earlier visit to Notre Dame.

The Obvious – The Notre Dame game brings out the best in Art Bartner's Spirit of Troy, as the band seems to get as excited as the team for this major local event.

The Not So Obvious – Notre Dame alumni associations in southern California are still miffed that the Irish again will not send out their wonderful band to Los Angeles. It figures the Sherman Oaks Notre Dame High School band will again represent the musical side of Irish football tradition. Yes, they'll play the bouncy "Victory Clog" after each Irish touchdown, something that Trojan fans hope to hear of very little.

The Obvious – Since the summer, it was a well-known fact that Saturday night's Trojans-Irish game would be televised nationally on ABC at 5 p.m.

The Not So Obvious – Somebody forgot to tell the Los Angeles Times Sunday TV Times edition, which makes no mention of the game, both in the local and national Sports Highlights page and the Saturday afternoon listings. It does mention the time 5 p.m. slot with "teams to be announced." Crank up the Jim Healy "Who goofed? I've got to know!"

The Obvious – The local news media has presented nostalgic memories of the 30th anniversary of the Trojans' stunning 55-24 comeback win over the Irish in 1974, a Coliseum game that all Trojan fan noise is compared.

The Not So Obvious – As the story is told, The Comeback was so big that Trojan photographer Arnold Frankel took a picture of the final score and turned it into a successful souvenir by adding a clock to the scoreboard picture. Needless to say, many Trojan fans still have the scoreboard clock still hanging in their living room.

The Obvious – Most of the nation's rivalry games were played last weekend, which gives the few that are left huge national exposure.

The Not So Obvious – For Trojan fans who need a little rivalry cocktail to ready for Saturday night, Friday gives us the Pac-10 battle of Arizona as "Sun Bowl sounds good to us" Arizona State travels down the freeway to play "We try harder" Arizona at noon on FSN.

The Obvious – Following a highly successful ESPN's College GameDay telecast at the Coliseum for the Cal game back in October, Fowler, Corso, and Herbstreit will be making a return appearance to the east peristyle end of the Coliseum Saturday morning (7:00 – 9:00 am.) to do their schtick.

The Not So Obvious – GameDay was absolutely thrilled with the response with their first USC home appearance, which talking head Lee Corso called the finest fan enthusiasm he had seen since he had been part of the show. The fact the Cal game was a 12:30 p.m. kickoff didn't hurt getting students and fans to the location in the early hours of the morning. With Saturday's game a 5:00 p.m. kickoff, it will be interesting to see if the Trojan faithful can do a full encore.

The Obvious – The nation will be watching and analyzing the merits of the USC Trojans as the season-long number one team in the land, and it is sure to add fuel and fire to the arguments of the BCS rankings.

The Not So Obvious –Starting with the Fighting Irish, the Trojans get their opportunity against their nationally recognized rival to prove to America they are the real deal of real deals. Having beaten Notre Dame more times (28) than any other Irish opponent, it's again time to fire up Traveler and hold on to your shillelagh, for this Saturday night's ride figures to be a wild one, if not an emotional one and please pass the cranberries.

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