WHO? No. 13 Notre Dame (5-1) vs. No. 11 Southern Cal (6-1), two of 16 or 17 genuine College Football Playoff contenders, though the loser of this matchup will no longer be able to make that claim.
WHAT? This one should come down to how well the Irish defense can limit the Trojan offense. If this becomes a shootout, the road team will hold the edge.
WHEN? 7:42 p.m. ET. The sun will have already set by then, making for a comfortable fall evening, and fans facing west in the Notre Dame Stadium should be quite grateful for that prime-time start.
WHERE? Notre Dame Stadium, South Bend, Ind., and broadcast on NBC.
The game will also be available through the NBC Sports app or online at: http://stream.nbcsports.com/notre-dame/notre-dame-usc
Those abroad should take a look at NBC Sports Gold for the evening, and for anyone desperate to see the Notre Dame band perform with Chicago at halftime: http://stream.nbcsports.com/notre-dame/notre-dame-halftime-show
WHY? To quote Tom Rinaldi from the top of a recent “Onward Notre Dame” special about the Irish rivalry with the Trojans, “There are two ingredients to a great football rivalry: history and hate.”
In many respects, those two factors are intertwined. Remember Notre Dame’s 1988 national championship season? USC entered the season finale against the Irish also undefeated at the time. One can hardly fault the Trojans for hating Notre Dame for spoiling that potential title season, even though USC then went on to lose to No. 11 Michigan in the Rose Bowl.
Let’s not spend any more time here than necessary on USC’s most-recent ruining of Irish dreams in 2005. Some Notre Dame fans have yet to recover from those few moments of premature joy. They don’t seem to find much comfort in knowing that game isn’t counted in either the official series record or USC’s all-time record due to something or other about an unnamed player receiving benefits above and beyond what the NCAA allows.
BY HOW MUCH? This line has held consistently at 3.5 points in favor of the Irish while the combined points total over/under has ticked up from 60 to 65.5. That jump would lead to a theoretical conclusion of Notre Dame 34, USC 31.
That sounds a bit like the aforementioned shootout. Perhaps if some of those points come from special teams or a defensive touchdown, such an output would make more sense, but those unexpected joys are beyond predicting. Thus, let’s defer to home-field advantage while skewing a bit lower.
Notre Dame 27, USC 23. (5-1 record on the season.)
In other words, the Irish convert in the red zone one more time than the Trojans do.
STAT TO REMEMBER: USC has turned the ball over 16 times in seven games. The Trojans have also forced 16 turnovers. Which one of those slows this weekend will likely make all the difference.
FACT TO REMEMBER: The only unbelievable part of the greatest Christmas movie ever made, “Die Hard,” is that the security guard is distracted by a Notre Dame vs. USC game, despite it being Christmas Eve. The teams have never played later than Dec. 10, which came all the way back in 1932.
THIS WEEK’S INSIDE THE IRSH READING:
— Questions for the Week: Wimbush’s health & the unpredictability of college football
— Notre Dame’s Opponents: Navy falls, dropping undefeateds to only Georgia and Miami (FL)
— QB Wimbush & Notre Dame RBs healthy; LB Martini not
— Notre Dame relies on QB Brandon Wimbush to keep drives alive despite passing struggles
— And In That Corner … The USC Trojans and turnover/touchdown-machine Sam Darnold
— Things To Learn: Notre Dame’s defense to be tested by USC in ways it has not yet seen
— Notre Dame without LB Greer Martini and with a hampered Dexter Williams
— Friday at 4: Bye Week Mailbag Part Two