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ND faces No. 1 rival USC under the lights

Published October 19. 2013 09:00AM

It's the longest intersectional college football rivalry in the country which began in 1926. It's a game that in the past has led to the winner going on to win a national title. It's a game when the winner cost the loser a national title.

It is the Notre Dame and Southern California series.

It is the most important game on the schedule for both schools despite USC's yearly quest to win the Pac 10 title and ND always seeking a shot at the national title. It is the most anticipated game on both schools' schedule.

Tonight at about 7:40 p.m. the two schools with tremendous histories and great programs will go at each other for the 85th time. ND leads the series, 44-35-5, but is has also been a series in which each team have gone on winning "streaks." ND once won 11 in a row during a span of 1983 to 1995 with a tie. USC has won eight in a row during a span of 2002 to 2009.

There has been games when both teams entered ranked in the Top 10. There has been games in which their has been upsets as one team would enter unbeaten and ranked number one, only to lose to the other and blowing their chance for a national title.

And there has been blowout wins by both teams in the series. There has also been controversial calls in the series that determined the outcome of the game.

So, all said, this is a series most schools would relish to be involved.

Today both teams enter at 4-2. ND is coming off a very important win over Arizona State two weeks ago which I said was one of those games during a season that comes up as a must win. ND won and by winning have put themselves in a position of make a run for a upper level BCS game. But, of course, the Irish must keep winning and USC is in the way as they have been so many times in the past.

USC comes into the game after a key win last week over Arizona. Afrer a loss to Arizona State on Oct. 10 USC fired coach Lane Kiffin after several weeks of team controversies. Team members were second guessing their coach, then there was a report of a team meeting in which Kiffin did not know anything about in which he took major hits in the LA media.

Kiffin was replaced by Ed Orgeron. Orgeron won his first game as head coach last week, winning 38-31. The other USC wins have been over Hawaii, 30-13; Boston College, 35-7; and Utah State, 17-14. The other loss was to Washington State, 10-7.

The Trojans are led by QB Cody Kessler, who has completed 81 of 134 passes for 1,129 yards and four interceptions so far this season. Leading the USC rushing attack is Tre Madden with 627 yards on 115 carries and three TDs. He has also caught 13 passes for 198 yards and four TDs. His backfield mate, Justin Davis, has 377 yards on 51 carries and six TDs.

Top receivers other than Madden, is Marqise Lee, 385 yards on 30 catches and a score and Nelson Agholar, 353 on 18 and two.

Hayes Pullard and Leonard Williams leads a USC defense that is very good at times.

The game will be televised nationally by NBC-TV with, as I said, a 7:40 p.m. kickoff. USC finished 7-6 last year and ND won in Los Angeles, 22-13, capping a 12-0 undefeated regular season. USC won in 2011 in South Bend, 31-17.

IRISH NOTES:The USC series began when legendary Irish coach Knute Rockne became the first Midwestern coach to take a team to the West coast and the teams have played every season since, except when they took the war years off, 1943-45, due to travel restrictions druing World War II....ND has won nearly 80 percent of its games when it plays after a regular-season bye week, since 1900. Brian Kelly is 13-2 in his career coming off a bye week....ND is 12-0 under Kelly when they do not commit a turnover in a game....ND has allowed four sacks and ranks tied for fifth in the FBS. Only Fresno State, with three sacks on 265 pass attempts, has allowed fewer sacks and attempted more passes than ND, four sacks on 210 pass attempts, this season. ND will need to protect QB Tommy Rees tonight from a USC defense that specializes in sacks....ND has won 24 of its last 30 games....The Irish have the ninth-best overall FBS winning percentage since Sept. 17, 2011....Rees has taken a lot of heat this season, but it should be noted he ranks among the top six in school history in six career passing categories. He ranks third in 300-yard games (five), third in completion percentage (60.7), fourth in completions (508), fourth in TD passes (47), fifth in attemptes (837), and sixth in passing yards (5,907)....ND has lost once in 28 games under Kelly when the Irish hold their opponent to 20 or fewer points. Also, Kelly teams have won 70 of its last 71 games when allowing 20 points or less....The week of practice after the Arizona State game Kelly gave his veterans a chance to rest a little more than usual while he and his staff took a hard look at the freshmen. One frosh that got rave reviews was WR Torii Hunter Jr. He didn't get much practice time earlier in the season because of a leg injury suffered in January, but he now has moved up on the depth chart. He is the son of Detroit Tigers outfielder Torri Hunter Sr....Former head coach Lou Holtz and his 1988 national championship team were honored this weekend multiple times on campus and at the Friday night pep rally where Lou reportedly gave one of his firey speeches....USC is a tough team for the Irish. They are ahead of ND in every defensive rating and offense, except passing offense. Defensively, however, Trojans give up a lot of passing yardage....The ND playing field was re-sodded after the Oklahoma game and the Irish have not practiced on it as yet. They even stayed off the field Thursday, the usual day they practice on the field. It was tested Friday as both ND and USC practiced at the stadium.....Tonight's game is another key for the Irish. A win would put them at 5-2 with a very manageable schedule ahead with Air Force and Navy the next two foes. ND is favored by three. In my preseason picks I have the Irish winning another close one. The key, I believe, is turnovers. If ND can protect the ball they should win.

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