Saturday, October 22, 2011

Defeating USC Monumentally Important For Notre Dame In Many Ways

Notre Dame (4-2) comes into their game against USC (5-1) tonight on a four-game winning streak.  The anti-Irish crowd that were so vocal the first two weeks of the season has been largely quiet as of late as the Irish have had several convincing victories.  The turnover issue that sunk them in their losses (5 turnovers in each game) seems to have been resolved, and the Irish seem to be cranking up to a very good season.

The game against USC, however, is undeniably the biggest game on the schedule for this season.  Nobody is going to expect Notre Dame to defeat Stanford as long as Andrew Luck is playing, and the game against Michigan earlier in the year is more of a regional game than a national must-see event (despite the greatness of that contest).  Until Michigan can regain its national reputation that it lost with the hiring of Rich Rodriguez, the Irish-Wolverine game will be more about local recruiting.

Let's look at everything at stake tonight (for both teams):

  • This is the biggest recruiting weekend a school has EVER had.  Notre Dame is hosting approximately 55 recruits for their 2012 and 2013 classes that are on both official and unofficial visits (normally a school might have at most 30 recruits on any one particular weekend).  Of the top 100 high school players in the country, 15 will be on the Notre Dame sideline tonight.
  • If Notre Dame plays well and wins the game, it could be such a national recruiting bonanza that the Irish could be stocked for years to come.  USC will most certainly be looking to impress the recruits on the field themselves, and will probably steal away a few of these guys.  Lane Kiffin knows this.
  • If the Irish win this game, it should propel them to at least a 9-3 record which puts them in line for a top-tier bowl.  I doubt that it could push them into the BCS with so many other great teams this year probably only having one loss (or a few going undefeated).  What the Irish need is a solid 9-win season followed by a bowl win over another very good team. It would do them no good to get into a bowl against a superior opponent.  They already did that in Charlie Weis' first two years to terrible results.
  • Lane Kiffin knows that, despite the 5-1 record right now, the most difficult portion if his schedule is coming up.  After the game with Notre Dame, the Irish play Stanford next week.  They also have yet to play Oregon and Washington later in the season.  If USC loses today, the Trojans are conceivably staring down at a second consecutive five-loss season.  Can Lane Kiffin keep his job with those performances?
Ultimately, this game is a story of two football programs in different places.  For a decade, it had been USC's rise and dominance over college football, but with the arrival of all the NCAA sanctions, defections, and the hiring of Lane Kiffin, USC is in a slow downward spiral.  When Barkley leaves for the NFL after this season, they will really be hurting.

In contrast, the Irish had a lot of younger talent that is playing better with every game.  Bryan Kelly took some lumps last year in a season where the Irish went 8-5.  Despite having the same record as USC, many Irish fans thought of the season as a bit disappointing.  However, Kelly has the offense humming, and the defense is playing better than it has since before Charlie Weis took over.  

The Irish win last year involved a lot of luck, but this year the win should be more convincing.  

Irish 45 USC 28 

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