USC Hosts #1 Notre Dame
USC welcomes Notre Dame to the sold-out Coliseum on Thanksgiving weekend Saturday for the 84th rendition of the greatest intersectional rivalry in college football…and the undefeated Irish are ranked No. 1 in the country.
It’s the sixth time the Irish have brought a top ranking to the Coliseum (Troy beat them twice) and the eighth time overall that the Trojans have met a No. 1 ND squad (most recently in 1989). It’s also the 19th time that USC has battled any No. 1 team (with 7 victories). The last time USC faced an undefeated Irish squad was 1993 (the Trojans have won only 4 times in 14 such occurrences, most recently 41 years ago). ND enters the game with a higher AP ranking than USC for the first time since 2000 (it’s the 18th time an unranked Trojan team has played a ranked Irish squad).
USC fell the last time it played the Irish in the Coliseum (with a backup quarterback in head coach Lane Kiffin’s debut 2010 season), but the Trojans have beaten Notre Dame in 6 of the last 8 Los Angeles clashes, as well as in 9 of the past 10 overall meetings.
USC could face the Irish again with a backup signcaller (QB Max Wittek), as QB Matt Barkley–who leads the nation in TD passes and owns Pac-12 career records for passing yardage, completions, pass TDs and total offense–is likely out with a shoulder injury.
The game is a battle between schools with perhaps the country’s most glorious gridiron heritages. The USC-ND winner gets year-long possession of the jeweled Shillelagh. USC is seeking its 11th straight 8-win season. Although a common occurrence in the past, this is the first time since 2002 that USC has played UCLA and Notre Dame back-to-back in that order. It is the final Coliseum game for USC’s 21 seniors.
It is only USC’s second night game of 2012 (its fewest since 2001). USC A.D. Pat Haden, a Trojan hero in the 1974 game, spent 12 years handling color on Irish telecasts. The Trojans are looking to recover from last week’s defeat at UCLA that deprived them of the Pac-12 South Division title and a berth in the Pac-12 Championship Game.
Soph WR Marqise Lee, a leading Heisman Trophy and Biletnikoff Award candidate who is in the Top 3 nationally in all-purpose yards, receptions and receiving yards, has more catches and reception yardage than anyone in the country after setting the Pac-12 season record for receiving yards. Another pass catching threat is WR Robert Woods, USC’s career receptions leader.
TBs Curtis McNeal, coming off a pair of 100-yard rushing performances, and Penn State transfer Silas Redd lead USC’s ground attack, with Rimington Award nominee and Academic All-District C Khaled Holmes the lead blocker.
USC’s defense, in the national Top 5 in sacks and tackles for loss, features DE Morgan Breslin (he has the most sacks and TFLs by a Trojan since 2003), All-American S T.J. McDonald (the team’s top tackler), CB Nickell Robey and LBs Dion Bailey and Hayes Pullard.
Notre Dame, celebrating its 125th year of football, is off to its best start (11-0) since 1993. Head coach Brian Kelly’s squad posted a big home win last weekend over Wake Forest. The Irish defense is one of the nation’s top defenses, as it ranks in the Top 13 nationally in scoring defense (first), rushing defense, total defense, pass efficiency defense and sacks. ND has held 5 opponents in 2012 to single scoring digits and 10 to less than 20 points behind star ILB Manti Te’o, DE Stephon Tuitt and CB Bennett Jackson, among others.
Notre Dame’s offense features versatile QB Everett Golson, RBs Theo Riddick, Cierre Wood and George Atkinson III, 2011 All-American TE Tyler Eifert and WR TJ Jones.
A “Kiff’s Kids” toy drive will be held around the Coliseum and fans are encouraged to donate a toy to benefit local children. The game will air live nationally on ABC and ESPN’s College GameDay pre-game show will be here. USC’s top-ranked and 4-time defending NCAA champion men’s water polo team will be hosting the conference championship all weekend.