On a schedule filled with big games, Trojans are Irish’s true rival

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Nothing seems to get people excited like talking about rivalries. Just ask Brian Kelly, who kicked a hornet’s nest earlier this year when talking about Michigan. But as Kelly spoke with the media today about the Irish’s annual match-up with USC, it was clear that this game is the true rival that means the most to this team.

“I think our players will be the first ones to admit that this is our rivalry game,” Kelly said. “This is our game that we look forward to against USC.”

A rivalry that begun in 1926, the USC-Notre Dame rivalry has been called the greatest intersectional rivalry in college football, and is a match-up that both programs have been fiercely protective of as conferences have expanded and big national rivalries have all but disappeared.

And while Notre Dame fans can look at games against Michigan, Navy, Michigan State, and Purdue as long running match-ups that are usually considered natural rivals, Kelly talked about how this week is different.

“I think we go through the season in so many weeks. I think it’s on the other side. In other words, other teams really calling it their rivalry game,” Kelly explained.  I think our players will be the first ones to admit that this is our rivalry game.

“It’s such a great matchup, great tradition, great history.  It’s part of the history of Notre Dame football that they really recognize as that one singular game.”

With Notre Dame winning two of the last three match-ups after USC had nearly a decade of uninterrupted success against the Irish, Kelly talked about where this game should stand on the national level.

“We would hope that both programs are competing each and every year for BCS Bowls and playoff opportunities,” Kelly said. “I think that’s where both programs want to be, that they’re on equal footing, that you don’t have to wait three, four years to get a win. I think both programs are looking forward to those days where it’s a great matchup year in and year out.”

As USC works through the tail end of NCAA sanctions that severely limited scholarships, they’ll now be hiring a new head coach that’ll need to quickly evaluate and restock a roster that’s now competing for the top talent in Los Angeles with a revamped UCLA program.

And while Kelly mentioned reaching equal footing in a rivalry that the Trojans have dominated since the turn of the century, it’s worth noting that this rivalry has been defined by the swings in momentum — with the Irish winning 12 of 13 games starting in the early 80s, before USC won 11 of 13 from 1970 until 1982.

In other words, the Irish are perfectly positioned to win at home and take three of their last four against the Trojans, potentially setting up another run that would have Irish fans very happy.