The Trojans have clobbered the Irish over the last few years so horribly that the odds makers have done something they never have before with this "greatest of all inter-sectional rivalries," they've taken the spread to twenty-two. Notre Dame beat the Trojans once by fifty-five – shut them out, but it was never expected.
Never in the history of this great game, and it is a great one, has one team been such a lopsided favorite. But this is what Pete Carroll has brought to Los Angeles – not the blowout, but the ability to beat his opponents with such thoroughness that it's become impossible to bet against him.
In a recent segment on CBS, they listed the ten greatest college football coaches of all time. The producers of this piece showed little hindsight or foresight in that they left both John McKay and Pete Carroll off the list. Carroll will be considered one of the all time greats, if he sticks around long enough. He will make this list, not for his won/loss record, or for some new-fangled defensive scheme, but for the most powerful thing any leader can create in his men – the ability to believe with absolute faith in what he's teaching.
Becoming PC. For most PC has taken on the meaning, politically correct. For the Trojan football team it's far more personal. It's about taking on the philosophy of their leader. You hear it daily uttered from the stars of the Trojans to the guys who walked-on. Without removing the passion for the contest, USC players have managed to take the opponent out of the equation and only concentrate on their own performances. By doing that, no game is bigger than the next. It's all about the team's execution of drills they have practiced over and over until they are routine.
Star tailback, Reggie Bush said he doubts fans would comprehend how a team could be so nonchalant about an archrival. "Because they're not in here and might not play football, they won't understand the mind frame," Bush said. It is that mindframe that has allowed a very young Trojan squad to not be overcome in any situation.
The Cal victory came down to this master concept. Carroll knew it, Cal's head coach Jeff Tedford did not.
When Tedford brought his Bears down the tunnel at the Coliseum, he yelled out "Ninety-two thousand…" and to that his players responded "Disappointed fans." Right from the get go he revealed that he had made the size of the home crowd too important. As much as he and his players claimed they had paid no attention to the reports of a sell-out and playing in front of the largest crowd in Cal history, they were lying. And it was that little blip in their game planning that started their downfall – opened the door to minor imperfections in their nearly perfect game.
Freshman linebacker Keith Rivers said he's not surprised by the indifference to the Irish, because he didn't notice anything special the week USC played No. 4 Cal. "We lost to Cal last year and it was just like normal around here," Rivers said. "I think it's hard for fans to understand. But the players understand."
So, to this coming matchup with Notre Dame, Pete Carroll and his players are treating it like just another game – important and one they will execute at the highest level to win, but not one they will give way to.
"It's an obvious matchup of enough significance. It's a national game. I'm so stuck in a rut, it's about doing a day's work for me," Carroll said. ". I don't want them to see any changes. The national buildup is enough." The tradition of this game, the great rivalry is not relevant to the Trojans' performance.
Perhaps this is the case for USC, but Notre Dame coach Tyrone Willingham is certainly aware of the tradition this week, especially with the Trojans ranked No. 1. "This is an awful important game as we try to build and take the right steps in our program, but also because of the tradition and history of the game," Willingham said. "There are really, if I am correct, eight or nine teams this year that have the opportunity to play the No. 1 team in the country. That is special. To have that opportunity to line up against them makes this game extremely important."
Poor Ty has already lost and what's really painful is he already knows it. He's made this game larger than his own team. The best they can hope to do is participate in the spectacle – play Christian to the hungry Trojans' lion.
Willingham considered running his boys out in the Kelly green – that beautiful jersey that has worked miracles against Trojans, passed. He won't, though, for he knows that green can only represent envy now – envy of what USC has become under Carroll, not Fighting Irish pride.
The Trojans aren't a team, they're a scourge. A dynasty. If all they had to play was the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame this season, they'd be an empire. Beating the Irish is like being a fighter who pummels his sparring partner. When fighters take the ring against unranked opponents and win, those in the profession say, "he beat nuthin'." That's what the media will claim after this game. Notre Dame shouldn't count. They weren't a participant in Saturday's Fall classic, just part of the scenery.
Notre Dame has suffered mightily at the hands of Troy in recent years, harder than any team before them. Seniors Cody, Grootegoed, Leach, Patterson, Holmes are the bringers of torture in a house of pain called the Coliseum. It's their last game against what was once the Fighting Irish, now turned Fainting Irish, at best. They are the nucleus of coach Carroll's championship season. And they are the reason Notre Dame isn't coming into this fight swinging, but instead asking, "Can't we all just get along?"
It's going to be a beautiful afternoon in Southern California. A sold out crowd will witness a young, versatile, brilliant Cassius Clay renamed Muhammad Ali-like bought versus the aging lion in Floyd Paterson. What might sound like the fight of the century will really a mugging, blow by blow followed by a pronouncement, "What's my name?" USC! "What's my name?" USC! What was college football, with what is, USC! This thing, that was once a game is all business now, the business of execution. Forget the memories and strike up the band, SC's in this thing to win.
Chow opens up his bag of tricks to help, yet another prodigy in Matt Leinart, win the Heisman. An aerial assault will give way by third quarter to a massive ground attack until the Trojans finish the Irish, 52 to 17. Hey, it's a living.