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ND, USC debate fall matchup

Karen Langley | Monday, May 1, 2006

It has been 80 years since then-head football coach Knute Rockne and his band of Fighting Irish rode a train out west for Notre Dame’s first game against the University of Southern California.

But a new Notre Dame-USC football tradition was launched Friday as USC debaters flew east to argue the outcome of the upcoming Nov. 25 game.

The teams gathered to debate the resolution “that the University of Notre Dame should defeat the University of Southern California in the 2006 collegiate football contest.”

No debate winner was announced, however, as debate team director and film, television and theater professor Susan Ohmer said the overwhelmingly Notre Dame audience would be biased.

Two debaters represented each university. Notre Dame’s competitors were Corey Mehlos, a sophomore and policy debate team president, and Tim Fiorta, a senior and parliamentary debate team president.

Debating for USC were Michael Smith, a sophomore whose high school debate record earned him a full scholarship to compete on the Trojan Debate Squad, and Brandon Hancock, a senior who has started two seasons at fullback for the Trojans.

While the USC debaters focused on the Trojans’ home-team advantage in November’s game, Notre Dame representatives spoke about the leadership the 18 returning starters will bring to the field. The coaching advantage remained debatable, as each contingent defended its own head coach.

Mehlos argued that the Fighting Irish would have the advantage because of three factors – execution, “nastiness” and desire.

He emphasized the impact of the nine returning offensive starters, a lineup which includes wide receivers Rhema McKnight and Jeff Samardzija and running backs Darius Walker and Travis Thomas.

In the first argument for USC, Smith acknowledged that both Notre Dame and USC are football dynasties, but argued that USC had a recruiting advantage based on recent history.

“Although many young men dream of waking up echoes and shaking down thunder, recruits choose the program with most chance of immediate success,” Smith said. “Notre Dame is back, and we couldn’t be happier. But while you were away, [USC] laid the groundwork that will lead to our victory in November.”

Notre Dame’s Fiorta agreed the current situation outweighs the two teams’ rich legacies – but that will help Notre Dame take down USC in November, he said.

“Let’s keep things current,” he said. “Tim Brown and the Four Horsemen aren’t going to suit up. Reggie Bush and Matt Leinart aren’t going to suit up.

“I think Jimmy Clausen sees where recruiting is going, and he’ll be heading to South Bend because of that.”

In his speech for the Trojans, Hancock said that Irish quarterback Brady Quinn will “almost certainly” be a Heisman candidate next season and conceded the quarterback advantage to the Irish. But projected USC starting quarterback John David Booty – who Fiorta said has compiled statistics primarily in easy games – will be entirely protected by the USC offensive line, Hancock said.

“These guys are behemoths,” he said. “These guys have more mass than the Catholic Church.”

In his rebuttal, Smith argued that the Trojans displayed more commitment to the game.

“Your best defensive player is a better boxer. Your best offensive player is a better baseball player,” Smith said, referring to Irish defensive back Tom Zbikowski and Samardzija. “Our players are more dedicated to football.”

Fiorta had a quick response.

“Matt Leinart is a better dancer,” he said. “We could go all around with this.”

Ohmer prefaced the open question-and-answer period by instructing the audience that both USC and Notre Dame policy forbids answering questions about “pending investigations.”

She warned audience members against inquiring into the affairs of USC quarterback Mark Sanchez or former USC running back and 2005 Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush.

Sanchez was charged with sexual assault last week, and news organizations have questioned the relationship Bush’s family had with a sports agent last year.