Stop me if you've heard this one before. The Notre Dame Fighting Irish and the USC Trojans are going to play a game where one team is playing for a shot at a national title, while the other is trying to salvage yet another season where they failed to live up to the hype. The title contender is built on defense, the pretender banks everything on their offense. If this was the 2000s, USC would be the title contender and Notre Dame the pretender. But as the Pete Carroll/Charlie Weis era has given way to the Lane Kiffin/Brian Kelly era, the roles have reversed.
There is admittedly very few comparisons to be made between Pete Carroll's USC and Brian Kelly's Notre Dame. The two coaches have almost nothing in common as men, and neither do their programs, aside from quite a few wins and stellar defense.
But again, stop me if this all sounds familiar: USC comes into Saturday night's game with a tremendous wide receiver, a Heisman trophy winning quarterback* that NFL scouts have absurdly extreme opinions on, a good running back corps that never seems to get the ball enough and a perversely bad defense? All of this orchestrated by a loudmouth braggart of a head coach who can't ever seem to shut up about his NFL pedigree.
Sound familiar? Flip Barkley for Brady Quinn, Marquis Lee for Jeff Samardzjia and tack about 175 pounds on Lane Kiffin and you have the Weis-era Notre Dame dropped right in the middle of Los Angeles. The gaudy offensive stats, the disorganization leading to multiple penalties a game, the fantastic recruiting and the inability to win against top competition except in a rare upset; it's all right there.
Notre Dame has had to fight a lot of battles with its recent past all season. Until it became the lone unbeaten team left standing, it had to deal with being outside the national title game, despite having the best resume, because the pollsters fundamentally did not respect them.
While a team like Alabama gets the benefit of the doubt that they will be there at the end of the season despite stumbling against the few good teams on their schedule, every close game Notre Dame plays is an indictment that Notre Dame Is Irrelevant And Will Never Be Good Again. This is what happens when you're a football power that goes nearly twenty years without competing, we suppose.
But all those same signs of rot are present in USC. The only difference is that the various media figures and fans still remember those dominant Pete Carroll teams vividly. These Trojans get the benefit of the doubt earned by all those years where Carroll lorded over the Pac-10 as Bro-in-Chief of the conference.
Never mind that the defensive backbone that fueled those teams has been replaced with clueless and outdated defensive incompetence. Nope, USC has got all this, and this is just a bump in the road. Notre Dame fans should totally be worried about a team whose defense couldn't defend a pee wee offense and whose offense got shut down by the one legitimate defense they faced all season.
Oh, and did we mention that Brady Qui – sorry, Matt Barkley – isn't even going to play today after hurting his shoulder? But don't worry, USC has another Mater Dei High School product full of bravado who has guaranteed a victory over Notre Dame. I'm sure everything will work out for USC.
As we all know from all the old adages about football, teams with no defense and inconsistent running games always beat teams with elite defenses and excellent ground attacks.
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