Irish senior running back Dexter Williams throws up the peace sign as he runs into the end zone during Notre Dame’s 36-3 win over Syracuse on Saturday at Yankee Stadium.
Tobias Hoonhout — Managing Editor
This is it.
The formula is simple: win, and you’re in. All that stands between Notre Dame and the College Football Playoff is a trip to SoCal to face rival USC.
In the past, trips to California at the end of the season have cost the Irish big-time under Brian Kelly. And this year, for all the hype surrounding the program, especially coming off of a huge Shamrock Series win over Syracuse, there isn’t a bigger chance to flip the script against the Trojans.
This game is ripe for the taking. USC has stumbled to a mediocre season and is coming off a tough rivalry loss to UCLA, a team that’s struggled even more this year than Clay Helton’s Trojans.
I’ve always been an optimist, and after seeing what the Irish have done, particularly on the road, I’m sold.
See you Dec. 29.
FINAL: Notre Dame 45, USC 17
Elizabeth Greason — Assistant Managing Editor
The bottom line for Notre Dame this week is win and it’s in. I don’t see how the committee can deny an undefeated Irish squad a spot in the College Football Playoff. But the Irish aren’t going to give the committee any room to think about it. They are going to finish out the regular season in commanding fashion, imposing their will on USC all over the field. What better way to end the season than to prevent your rivals from achieving bowl eligibility?
This Irish defense rivals the likes of 2012’s, and while USC has been able to put points on the board throughout the season, the Irish nearly shut out the Orange last weekend, another team whose ability to score had been steady.
It’s a homecoming to California for Ian Book and he’s going to help the Irish put on a show and pack their bags.
FINAL: Notre Dame 45, USC 10
Joe Everett — Sports Editor
Well, here we go!
A spot in the College Football Playoff is on the line this weekend in Los Angeles.
I still remember watching the game in 2012, when Notre Dame traveled to USC with a trip to the BCS national championship on the line. The Irish rode five field goals and used a late goal-line stand to finish off USC 22-13 and complete an undefeated regular season.
I think the same outcome occurs this Saturday night, only with more points for Brian Kelly’s team.
It’s flat-out simple: If both teams want it the same, the more talented, balanced and disciplined team will win. Notre Dame holds the advantage in all three areas, is playing its best football at the right time, and will have all the motivation and focus in the world coming into the Coliseum. It knows what’s at stake. CFP, here come the Irish.
FINAL: Notre Dame 38, USC 13
Charlotte Edmonds — Associate Sports Editor
In many ways, last week’s win over Syracuse was a mandate for the College Football Playoff Committee and Notre Dame doubters that this team is legit and undeserving of the criticisms they’ve faced over strength of schedule and narrow wins. Yet, as Notre Dame gets set to take on USC, FiveThirtyEight still only gives the Irish an 86 percent chance of qualifying should they win out.
Despite being a firm defender of the integrity of statistics and analysis, this time things just don’t add up. Say what you want about the state of USC football, but regardless of who their schedule puts in front of them, the Irish have continued to assert their dominance, especially as of late. With the offense working at ridiculous levels of efficiency, the early leads they’re able to build are only reinforced by the stifling combination of the front seven and secondary. As teams continue to beat up on each other, Notre Dame will emerge unscathed.
This team is peaking at just the right time and there’s nothing Clay Helton can do to stop the rampage of the Irish.
FINAL: Notre Dame 41, USC 10
Connor Mulvena — Associate Sports Editor
I’ve been pessimistic about this team all season, but after last week’s victory over Syracuse, this team has proven me wrong in a lot of ways. It’s just unreasonable at this point for me to not have faith in this team.
I really don’t think there’s much to say here. You can look at the stats or the strengths and weaknesses, but let’s be frank — USC is having a very bad year. These are not the Trojans Notre Dame saw at home last year, and even then, with Sam Darnold at the helm for USC, the Irish took care of business. Plus, the Trojans clearly have problems at the head coach position, as rumors of Jeff Fischer or Jack del Rio taking over have already circulated.
There’s no reason the Irish should lose this game. I know it’s rivalry week, and anything can happen, but there really is no excuse here for Notre Dame, especially with the playoff on the line.
I’m reluctantly shifting my pessimistic attitude. I think the Irish come up big here and seal the deal. It sure will be a miserable flight home if they don’t.
FINAL: Notre Dame 35, USC 10