WHO? No. 3 Notre Dame (11-0) at USC (5-6).
WHAT? A chance to seize ready opportunity rather than shirk it, a moment to put this season into the second-tier of Irish memories, with the likes of 2012, 1993 and 1964, but not yet on par with the 11 championship seasons. A win against the Trojans will keep that possibility very much in play, assuring Notre Dame a spot in the College Football Playoff.
WHEN? 8 ET. Of the things in this life that always have been, are today and always will be true, the Irish playing with hopes of securing a chance at a national title will forever be a game in primetime, no matter how much USC is struggling.
WHERE? Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Take this as a backhanded compliment to the Coliseum: It is the personal measuring stick to determine if a stadium is good or bad. The Coliseum’s history cannot be denied; hosting two Olympics alone sets a venue apart from others. (It’s Friday night in Los Angeles, pardon me for not going down the rabbit hole to figure out how many other venues in the world have hosted two Olympics. Know I considered it.)
Stadiums more out-of-date than the Coliseum tend not to get that benefit of past footsteps, and there have been a couple such locations visited this season.
ABC has the broadcast, which means you do not need to text your parents asking for their cable login. If not in front of a TV, you should be able to rely on the Watch ESPN app.
WHY? Because this is how these two programs measure themselves. When the Irish finished an unbeaten regular season with a 22-13 victory in the Coliseum, it not only meant they were headed to the national championship game, but also that they were definitively ahead of the Trojans in every pertinent regard.
When 2016 ended with a 45-27 loss on the Pacific Coast, the echoes around Notre Dame and head coach Brian Kelly did not need awakening from a real-life nightmare. Finishing a season 4-8 was bad enough, but to hardly compete with USC? That was a bridge too far for many.
Kelly can deliver such a blow now to Trojans head coach Clay Helton. An Irish rout would amplify the noise already around Helton to a deafening level.
BY HOW MUCH?
After the spread opened favoring Notre Dame by eight on Sunday, the line steamed to 11 by Tuesday —
NO, REALLY, HOW MUCH?
Really, the books favor the Irish by 11 with a combined point total over/under of 54, indicating a 33-22 final. The last time Notre Dame arrived in Los Angeles with that much of a presumed advantage was 1996 in Lou Holtz’s last game with the Irish. As 13-point favorites, they lost 27-20 in overtime.
What is not well remembered from that game is the fumbled punt, a failed fair catch at that, by a banged-up Allen Rossum in the fourth quarter to give USC hope. A 14-6 Notre Dame lead shortly thereafter became 14-12
The purpose of bringing that up is not to instill fears, but to point out how such upsets happen. Proven, experienced playmakers fail in drastic fashion.
A cynic, like this one, would take that opening and stir up concern. But these Irish have not made those mistakes. A blocked punt this year courtesy of a bad snap is about the extent of the list. Be it via a bend-don’t-break defense, an exquisitely-accurate quarterback or a defensive line developing into dominant, Notre Dame has forced its opponents to beat it.
And these Trojans are not up to that task. They have shown nothing to indicate otherwise since a 39-36 topping of Washington State way back on Sept. 21. Since then? Beating Arizona, Colorado and Oregon State hardly makes for a worrisome force.
Do not consider this over-confidence. A cynic would usually lean the other way. Consider this a deference to the available data.
Notre Dame 37, USC 9.
(10-1 in pick; 4-7 against the spread, 5-6 point total.)
INSIDE THE IRISH READING:
— Dexter Williams’ pace underscores changes at Notre Dame
— Playoff Possibilities & Opponents: Just Win Edition
— And In That Corner … The USC Trojans, the last hurdle, the last stop, the last challenge before 12-0
— Things To Learn: Notre Dame’s hopes of 12-0, and more, may hinge on trenches
— Friday at 4: 40 thanks to gives, courtesy of Notre Dame’s unbeaten season
— Jerry Tillery essential to Notre Dame’s playoff push
— Ian Book has Notre Dame eyeing a 12-0 regular season, College Football Playoff
— Notre Dame pulled off its Yankee Stadium showcase as only Notre Dame can