Notre Dame vs. USC - The Really Big Game
USC WR Marqise Lee
USC WR Marqise Lee
Posted Nov 21, 2012

Week 13 Fearless Prediction & Game Preview – Notre Dame at USC

Notre Dame (11-0) at USC (7-4) Nov. 24, 8:00, ABC

Here's The Deal: See, Notre Dame. Was it really that hard to get to No. 1?

All it took was two top-ranked teams – Alabama against Texas A&M and Kansas State against Baylor – to lose two weeks in a row and for grinding win after grinding win to get to the penthouse of the BCS rankings, and now, all of a sudden, there's no worrying about anyone else.

It doesn't matter what Alabama does against Auburn. Oregon's game against Oregon State is meaningless. There's no trying to figure out the BCS computer formulas, and there's no worrying about the strength of schedule. For the first time all season long, Notre Dame is in complete and total control of its own destiny, needing only to win one game against an underachieving USC team that decided to take a year off from tackling, and it's on to Miami to play for the BCS championship. Throw in the absence of Matt Barkley, who's out with a shoulder injury, and there aren't any excuses.

But this year, Notre Dame isn't exactly doing things the easy way.

From the three overtimes it took to beat Pitt, to the controversial win over Stanford in OT, to the tough victories over Purdue, BYU and Michigan, it's not like the team hasn't been tested. For a fan base that has gone through a roller coaster of emotions this year, in general, there appears to be a bigger sense of nervous apprehension than true excitement, because now, USC is a true underdog.

The Trojans have had several chances this year to rise to the occasion, only to have failed miserably time and time again. Despite the three losses in the last four games, and even though the defense has been steamrolled over by anyone who dared to pound away, and there's still a chance to make something great out of a disappointing year.

Beating Notre Dame would be better than any bowl victory USC could get at this point, and if Wittek can shine, all of a sudden, the offseason narrative would be about the potential of the team and its new young star. It would also be a moment of resiliency for a team that has yet to come up with a wow win. Beating Arizona State and Washington doesn't count.

This is the 84th matchup between the two rivals who first met up in 1926 – a 13-12 Irish win. USC has won nine of the last ten meetings, with the Bush Push classic in 2005 the signature game since an 11-0 Notre Dame beat a 10-0 USC in 1988. One way or another, this game will become a major part of college football history in one of the greatest rivalries in all of sports.

Why Notre Dame Might Win: Has USC done anything to suggest that it can win a big game like this?

From the 730 the defense gave up to Oregon, to the struggles against the Arizona skill stars, to getting powered over and stuffed by Stanford, to coming out inexplicably flat against UCLA, this has hardly been a stellar season for a talented team that was supposed to be good enough to run the table. Instead, it's been a soft team that struggles way too much with tough defenses, physical running games and mobile quarterbacks.

Notre Dame has a tough defense, a physical running game and a mobile quarterback.

Overall, the USC defensive numbers aren't that bad, and the D has been excellent at times, but it's no coincidence that the four worst performances this year by the run defense all came in losses - 12 of the 15 rushing touchdowns were given up in the four defeats. Meanwhile, the offense has been a disaster when it comes to turnovers, giving it away 16 times in the last four games and 29 times on the season. Throw in the 94 penalties, and USC makes way, way too many mistakes.

Why USC Might Win: Notre Dame has gotten away with a mediocre secondary thanks to the schedule. Injuries were a key concern coming into the season for a defensive backfield that was expected to be a problem even if it was healthy. Fortunately, playing a slew of teams that are challenged when it comes to throwing the forward pass has helped the cause. However, the one team that can throw – Oklahoma – bombed away for 364 yards with Jalen Saunders coming up with 15 catches for 181 yards. Marqise Lee has to be licking his chops.

Offensively, the Irish haven't played too many teams with a top-shelf pass rush, but the ones that did were able to come up with big defensive days. Oklahoma, Miami, Michigan and Michigan State don't get to the quarterback, but BYU and Stanford do, and those two held the Irish to two of their three lowest-scoring days of the year. USC might have several problems, but it's fourth in the nation in sacks and fifth in tackles for loss.

What To Watch Out For: Max Wittek, Los Angeles is yours for the taking. The 6-4, 225-pound freshman took over the reins from Matt Barkley at Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei High School – the same prep school as Trojan legend Matt Leinart. He has the prototypical size and arm strength, and confidence isn't an issue in any way. It might be a case of being too young and too inexperienced to not be fazed by the moment, and with a loaded receiving corps and a decent line to give him a little bit of time, the potential is there to shine.

Wittek's counterpart, Notre Dame sophomore Everett Golson, has picked a great time to heat up. It helped to get a few games against the softer teams on the schedule, but he proved he could lead the way to a clutch comeback in the win over Pitt, and he has been nearly flawless over the last two weeks against Boston College and Wake Forest completing 36-of-54 passes for 546 yards and five scores with a pick.

What Will Happen: Wittek will be fantastic. He'll come up with a huge day and Lee will catch at least ten passes with a few home runs to get Oregon and SEC fans fired up about the national title possibilities, and then Notre Dame will be Notre Dame. The Irish will shut down the Trojan ground game cold, but the big key will be the turnover battle with two takeaways leading to scores in key moments, and then it will be all up to the running game. The Irish will own the fourth quarter by blasting away on two long, grinding drives to seal the win on the way to Miami.

CFN Prediction: Notre Dame 30 … USC 20
ATS Consultants Line (Click for more lines and picks) Notre Dame -6 O/U: 44
Must Watch Rating (5 – Beware of Mr. Baker, 1 – Life of Pi): 5