The annual rivalry match between USC and Notre Dame could not come at a more important time this year.
Interim head coach Ed Orgeron is trying to build momentum to carry the Trojans through the end of the season, while Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly’s squad is pulling a USC, circa 2012. Sure, they didn’t begin 2013 ranked No. 1, but they went undefeated before getting blowing out in the 2013 National Championship, and since then, have continued to be rather underwhelming.
With both teams looking to bounce back from shameful efforts, this installment of the fierce rivalry between these two teams will go a long way in setting the tone for the remainder of the season.
Since USC will soon be knee-deep in a head coaching search, a win on the road in South Bend would be monumental in terms of luring a high-profile target. Furthermore, a win would bring some more confidence back to the USC program, something essential to strong recruiting.
In their last matchup, the Trojans played without Matt Barkley and with a nervous, inexperienced Max Wittek. It did not end well for USC. This time, Cody Kessler is under center and looking more confident and capable with each week. Not only that, but the Trojans also boast a stout running game that will likely be the cornerstone of this match up.
On the other hand, Coach Orgeron still maintains that Marqise Lee is “questionable” to play against Notre Dame. The Trojans faired well without him against Arizona, but if he does not suit up this week, what he brings to the field will be sorely missed. Nelson Agholor has shown he can shoulder the additional responsibility, but having Lee on the field would obviously tip the scales just a bit in USC’s favor.
While the Trojans have underwhelmed by their standards, Notre Dame has done so on a national level. A win for the Fighting Irish would mean not only claiming back-to-back victories over USC, but would help dispel the notion that they are the same old Notre Dame: lots of hype but no substance.
Ranked #14 to start the season, the Irish have tumbled out of the polls with losses to now-unranked Michigan and #18 Oklahoma. They underwhelmed in wins over Michigan State and Purdue, then squeaked out a win over now-unranked Arizona State. A loss to USC would turn a let down season into a disaster. A win would propel them into an easier four game stretch before the big match up with Stanford to close the regular season.
On Saturday when these two teams clash, they will both be unranked for the first time in years. A victory likely won’t boost either into the Top 25, but it will be significant to their shared narrative nonetheless. Beyond that, there’s nothing quite like winning bragging rights in the greatest intersectional rivalry in college football.