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And in that corner… The Southern California Trojans

Nov 25, 2010, 1:48 AM EDT

Traveler_USC2

Can you believe this is it for the 2010 Irish football regular season? In many ways it feels like the Charlie Weis era is so far behind us with all that’s transpired, but it feels like Year One of the Brian Kelly era has just begun.

We’ll have one more game after this Saturday to discuss, but there are none more important than the date that’s been circled on the Irish calendar since Jimmy Clausen’s pass hit the grass at Notre Dame Stadium after Duval Kamara slipped on his out cut. With that, the Trojans withstood the Irish’s furious comeback led by Clausen and Golden Tate and Pete Carroll’s Trojans snuck out of South Bend with another win, seemingly on track for another Pac-10 championship.

When you consider all of that’s happened last October, so much has changed for both programs. While we were tempted to get into all that’s changed at Heritage Hall, it’s probably best we stick with the football. For the first time since Frank Leahy and Sam Berry met in 1941, both the Irish and the Trojans will have first year head coaches on their sidelines. While I’ve lived in the heart of Trojan territory for the past six years, I thought it wise to defer to an expert on what’s gone on with the Trojans in their first year under Lane Kiffin.

Enter Dan Weber, who covers the Trojan beat for USCFootball.com. Weber is a native of Northern Kentucky, a graduate of St. Xavier High school in Cincinnati and counts jobs as a sports information director at Northern Kentucky University and Xavier as well as writing gigs at the Cincinnati Enquirer and the Riverside Press-Enterprise as lines on his impressive resume. Dan was kind enough to take some time and answer some questions for me in advance of Saturday night’s game between the Irish and the Trojans.

I asked, he answered. Enjoy.

1. Assess the season so far. Seven wins, four losses, two really bad ones (Washington, Oregon State). Obviously, this season came under rather bizarre circumstances, but what do you make of the Trojans after 11 games of Lane Kiffin?

So far, some good, some not so for this USC team this season. Transition seasons are often difficult for no other reason than they’re transition seasons. The adjustment to a new staff is almost never easy. Whoever came in after Pete Carroll was going to face a challenge which Lane Kiffin has handled extremely well.

Discipline, academics, and morale for much of the season has been improved over last year despite all the hard knocks these kids have had to take that were absolutely no fault of their own. Losing two games on the last play could have knocked this team back for good but it didn’t. But that’s not to say there’s an excuse for the Washington loss. There’s not. That was an awful effort all the way around.

The Stanford loss is another question with USC being cheated by an incorrect clock operation at the end of the game that stole 30-35 seconds and left three seconds on the clock for Stanford to kick a game-winning field goal in a game USC outplayed the Cardinal. The Pac-10 assures us that secret measures have been taken since that game to prevent another similar occurrence.

No way to excuse USC’s third straight loss in Corvallis. After beating a ranked Arizona team on the road, USC wasn’t mentally ready at all for Oregon State and was embarrassed for the third time in two seasons by an opponent able to run the score up on a hapless Trojans team that pretty much didn’t attempt to compete.

What USC has done is not allow the fact that its opportunity to play for a bowl game and a Pac-10 title was taken away. Or the fact that the NCAA allowed upperclassmen to transfer without penalty at any time in an unprecedented ruling. The players have pretty much hung in there with the program and the new coach. It’s been inspiring what the seniors have done even though their careers haven’t turned out the way they thought they would.

2. What has surprised you the most about this year? With the talent returning, did you expect any facet of the team to perform better?

Obviously the defense has been a disappointment, especially the pass defense. Linebackers might have been expected to fall off as heart ailments knocked out two of the second year players and USC lost four players two years ago to starting spots as NFL rookie linebackers. You don’t replace numbers and talent like that.

And all four secondary starters also graduated so USC was starting anew there. And the lack of experience and difficulty in adjusting to Monte Kiffin’s schemes have been obvious as USC is 114th in NCAA pass defense this week allowing 272 yards a game.

The tackling and pursuit angles have suffered because USC hasn’t been able to tackle live in practice all season. Having just 51 or 52 scholarship players available for some games will do that to a team.

3. The Notre Dame/Southern Cal rivalry has been one of extremes, with long winning streaks for both teams dominating the past few decades. With Pete Carroll and Charlie Weis gone, do you expect things to even out?

Whether the rivalry evens out, it would seem, depends on Notre Dame, I’d imagine. Even the unprecedented sanctions, the two-year bowl ban and loss of 30 scholarships over three seasons, a penalty of unprecedented severity and without any historical basis that the NCAA Committee on Infractions including Notre Dame deputy AD Missy Conboy inflicted on USC** probably won’t completely even things out unless the Irish improve.

**Editor’s Note: We expanded on this subject, but Dan thought it better to remove it from our Q&A. I agreed.

4. Are you impressed with the job Brian Kelly’s done, especially considering the injuries (starting QB, TE, 2 WRs, MLB, DT, FS) and off-the-field tragedies he’s had to deal with?

The way Notre Dame has bounced back the last two weeks is impressive. The Irish suffered some tough early losses as well as the off-the-field tragedies and seem like they still want to compete and that has to please fans of this series. No one wants to see either of these teams so far down that the rivalry is diminished. As a Cincinnati native who always paid attention to the program, I was well aware of the job Kelly did there and a strong believer in his ability to put together a winning program at Notre Dame.

5. Back to the game. It looks like Mitch Mustain has a chance to form a pretty compelling two-game legacy for the Trojans. What are the keys to a Trojan victory on Saturday? Can USC bounce back after last week’s demoralizing loss?
Mitch Mustain does have the opportunity to become a USC legend in two games for staying, and winning, the archrival games for USC when he easily could have left. And it could maybe only happen at USC since the Trojans are the only program in the country with two major and almost equal archrivals in Notre Dame and UCLA. No one else has two archrivals like that and gets to play them in back-to-back weeks. And if Mitch can get it together, and USC can, it’s there for him. I think USC can get its act together this week — but then I thought it could last week, as well. Shows how much I know.

6. Gut Feeling?

Gut feeling? I think they’ll bounce back. Notre Dame may not have quite as much talent as Oregon State but it’s close. So USC’s players have to know what could happen if they don’t show up ready to play.

*****

Read more of Dan’s coverage of the big game all week at USCFootball.com

  1. 9irish - Nov 25, 2010 at 2:20 AM

    Interesting, you hit on some key “trends” if you will….I am from Ohio, I am a Notre Damer, and I lived in Ann Arbor for 3 yrs… When I was a kid, USC just tormented ND under Ara and Dan Devine. Lou Holtz and even Gerry Faust were very succesfull for a long long time against them. Now it has reversed, and everyone forgets about how USC could not beat the Irish to save their lives.
    Reminds me of OSU and Michigan…John Cooper almost had pro football teams at OSU but could not beat Michigan. Now it is the other way around with Tressel

    The point is, if we are going to reverse this psyche thing, with a new coach, this is the chance to do it

    Go Irish

  2. bernhtp - Nov 25, 2010 at 6:44 AM

    re: “Even the unprecedented sanctions, the two-year bowl ban and loss of 30 scholarships over three seasons, a penalty of unprecedented severity and without any historical basis that the NCAA Committee on Infractions including Notre Dame deputy AD Missy Conboy inflicted on USC** probably won’t completely even things out unless the Irish improve.”

    What a whiney, unrepentant, snarky, and condescending comment. And this was just the part that wasn’t edited out. It’s past time we beat these bastards.

    • vegasmark - Nov 25, 2010 at 11:06 AM

      Completely agree. GO IRISH!!!

    • tedlinko - Nov 25, 2010 at 1:14 PM

      WAY past time. But this is classic USA fan–you hear it all the time. For years they’ve talked endless smack, ignoring the blatant flouting of the rules going on with their program. Then, when the hammer finally drops, it’s everybody’s fault but theirs. Everybody’s picking on us.

      Perhaps the sanctions were unprecedented (which simply means they established a new precedent.) Perhaps that could be because the violations ALSO were unprecedented. (the Bush payoffs got most of the press but there was OJ Mayo, agents prowling the sidelines, etc.) SC acted as though one set of rules applied to them and another to everyone else. And that continued on even AFTER the NCAA started investigating them for basically having not just Reggie but the entire Bush family on the take. I’d argue that, beyond the violations themselves, what provoked the NCAA’s wrath was the pervasive attitude (which persisted to this year) that the regular rules didn’t apply to the Trojans. And still, Trojan fans continue to whine that they are being treated so unfairly. Cry me a river…

      • bgnd91 - Nov 25, 2010 at 5:51 PM

        I agree with everything you said 100%. All I heard from friends that go to usc were, “It’s bullshit, the NCAA was out to get us.” and different variations of that. I honestly hate usc with every bone in my body, and would love nothing more than for ND to just beat the living shit out of them Saturday. It’s something that is long, long overdue.

  3. tlndma - Nov 25, 2010 at 7:42 AM

    Keith, what a good choice for the oppositions (twisted) viewpoint of things. As far back as 2004 you could see what had to be going on in LA. Of course $C fans blame everyone else for their problems. In 2 or 3 years when the effects of the sanctions really hit them, the whining could become unbearable.
    I hope $C is going into this game thinking we’re not as talented as Oregon St.

  4. 1notredamefan - Nov 25, 2010 at 10:35 PM

    Can we finally get this monkey off of our back’s…

    Excellent pump up for our game against the cheaters!

  5. 1notredamefan - Nov 25, 2010 at 11:28 PM

    For the hell of it… This is pretty cool,

    • 9irish - Nov 26, 2010 at 4:43 AM

      man…you guys motivate me!

      Go Irish

  6. socalgold - Nov 26, 2010 at 12:39 PM

    Does everybody heat that? probably not, but Dan obviously is off his meds because he can hear the black helicopters out to get Southern Cal football. Sack up and take some responsibility for YOUR actions.

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