It's the NCAA college football's top intersectional rivalry, the longest in the nation, and it will kickoff tonight in Notre Dame stadium.
ND and Southern California will play for the 83rd time in a series that has produced many thrills and disappointments for the Irish and USC. It is a series where more often than not, each team enters the game with a winning record and a chance to move up in the polls or jump into the Top 25. There is little doubt that the winner of tonight's game will make the AP Top 25 tomorrow.
The Irish enter at 4-2. After losing the first two to South Florida and Michigan, the Irish have won four straight with wins of Michigan State, Pittsburgh, Purdue and Air Force. The win over Michigan State turned out to be a really big one considering what the Spartans have done since the loss.
USC enters at 5-1 with wins over Minnesota, 19-17; Utah, 24-14; Syracuse, 38-17; Arizona, 48-41; and California, 30-9. The lone loss was to Arizona State, 43-22.
The ND-USC rivaly began in 1926 with legendary Irish head coach Knute Rockne taking his team west. He was the first midwestern coach to take a team to the west coast. ND won that game, 13-12, and the teams have met every season since, with only the war years of 1943-45 off due to travel restrictions.
ND has won eight Associate Press national titles while USC has won five. The Irish have been selected as a national champion by at least one legitimate poll in 19 seasons; USC lists 17 such campaigns.
ND began the season second on the all-time winning percentage list and third in total victories while USC is not far behind being eighth and 10th place, respectively.
The Irish lead the series 43-34-5. In games played in South Bend, the Irish lead 23-13-1. The series has been dominated by winning streaks by both teams. The latest streak belonged to USC, who won eight straight from 2002-09. That was the longest streak by the Trojans in the series. ND ended in with a 20-16 win last year in Los Angeles. The Irish longest streak in the series was 13 games from 1983-1995. The Irish won 11 straight games from 1983-93, but a 17-17 tie in 1994 at USC ended it. ND won in 1995 but a Trojans' 27-20 overtime win in 1996, ended the streak.
This year, the Trojans are led by QB Matt Barkley, who has completed 152 of 223 passes for 16 touchdowns in the six games with four interceptions. Total yardage for Barkley is 1,782. His top targets are receivers Robert Woods (60-783, 6 TDs) and Marqise Lee, (25-404, 4TDs). Leading the USC running game are Curtis McNeal with 303 yards on 41 carries and two TDs, D.J. Morgan, 116 and 31 and Marc Tyler 340 on 83 and two TDS.
The game will be televised nationally by NBC-TV with a 7:30 p.m. start, kickoff about 7:40. It is the first night game at ND stadium in 21 years.
IRISH NOTES: For the second year in a row both teams enter the game not ranked nationally. That has happened 10 times in the history of the series....Each team in the series has ruined the others chance for a national title. USC did it to ND at least seven times and ND returned the favor to USC three times....USC has won the last four meetings in South Bend and five of seven....Prior to this year's meeting, USC had entered the game in South Bend ranked no worst than 13th in the country over the last four meetings. Since 1965, the ND-USC game has been nationally televised on 38 occasions including today....Expect backup QB Andrew Hendrix to play a role in the ND offense tonight. In the Air Force game he led all rushers and caused the Falcons major problems, so expect head coach Brian Kelly to use him more tonight. The question is, is Hendrix ready for "prime time."....To win tonight and to make a charge for a BCS bowl game the Irish need to improve in several areas. One is the red zone, which ND is ranked 100th nationally; in the turnover margin, where the Irish are ranked 108th; rush defense, 53rd nationally; penalty yards per game 109th (they give away 71 yards per game in penalties); and pass-efficiency, ND is ranked 54th. Nine of the top 10 teams in the AP poll ranked in the top 30 in this category....According to the South Bend Tribune the Irish appear headed to The Champs Sports Bowl in Orlando, Fla., on Dec. 29. Likely opponents is Virginia Tech or Florida State. The most likely of the BCS bowls the Irish could land if they continue to win, is the Orange Bowl in Miami. Others include the Sugar or Fiesta....Kelly enters tonight's game with a 12-1 record following a bye week. That includes a 28-3 romp over 15th ranked Utah last year. The lone loss was in 2008 against Connecticut when he coached Cincinnati....USC has been good against the run giving up just 99.5 yards a game, but the Trojans pass defense is questionable. They have given up 272 passing yards per game....ND linebacker Manti Te'o, defensive end Ethan Johnson and receiver/special teams contributor Daniel Smith were hobbled this week with injuries but are a go for tonight. Johnson, however, probable won't start...If ND's gold helmets look a little more "gold" and shinier" tonight, there is a reason. Kelly said he and AD Jack Swarbrick have been frustrated with the color of the helmets. He said the shades have changed over the years and not what the school wants. Kelly said, "We wanted it to be (like) the Golden Dome." So equipment manager Ryan Grooms has worked on it long and hard, Kelly said, and he believes it is finally right. The tradition of having 23.9-karat gold flakes in the paint continues, however....ND opened it $50 million hockey arena on Wednesday to rave reviews from players and fans. The 5,000 seat facility has two rinks, one an Olympic-size, nine lockerrooms, a auditorium for player meetings and viewing films, and a weight room ....Tonight's game is a key one for both teams. This is also an important game for the Kelly era at ND. A win tonight will go a long way in helping Kelly win back those fans that have questioned his coaching so far. I predicted a USC upset win in my preseason picks. ND is favored by nine. This should be a close one. ND stadium will be really rocking tonight.