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Early football preview and predictions: USC Trojans

| Wednesday, April 29, 2020

The rivalry between Notre Dame and USC is one of the greatest rivalries in sports, and whenever the two meet, the game figures to be an instant classic. The Irish will look to wrap up their season on a high note by winning at the Coliseum and beating USC for the fourth year in a row. Last time the Irish beat USC at the Coliseum, they clinched a spot in the College Football Playoff, and they will hope to be in a similar situation come this year’s game as well.


Opponent: USC Trojans

Date: Nov. 28

Location: Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum

Kickoff: TBD


History of the Matchup

This rivalry can be traced all the way back to 1926 when Irish head coach Knute Rockne took his team by train to Southern California to play the Trojans for the first time. The Irish ended up winning this first matchup by a score of 13-12. Since that matchup in 1926, the Irish and Trojans have played a total of 88 times and played every year except during World War II. Notre Dame currently leads the all time series with 47 wins, 36 losses and 5 ties against the Trojans.

This rivalry is one of the greatest in sports because of the success that both programs have had on the national level. Both schools claim 11 national championships and both have had a plethora of Heisman winners, Hall of Famers and All-Americans on their teams throughout the years. This past weekend, the Irish passed the Trojans in the category for most players to get drafted into the NFL, as the Irish have now had 511 players drafted.

There have been so many memorable games in this rivalry, and there have been numerous occasions where this game has held national title implications. To this day, one of the most memorable matchups might have been in 1929’s game at Soldier Field in front of 112,912 spectators (the second largest verified crowd in college football history). The Irish ended up winning the game by a score of 13-12 and ultimately won the national title that year.

Since the matchup’s inception, there have been eras where one team has dominated and eras of parity among both teams. During the first fifteen years of the rivalry, it was mostly back and forth with both teams earning multiple national titles. Through the 1940s and 1950s, the Irish dominated the rivalry for the most part and added four more national titles.

The 1960s through early 1980s are often referred to as the “golden age” of the rivalry. During this span, the teams combined for eight national titles, and the game held national title implications almost every year. Then, from the early 1980s to 1995, the Irish took hold of the series and beat USC an unprecedented 11 straight times. The Trojans dominated the series during the early 2000s, though, beating the Irish eight straight times from 2002-2009.

From 2010 to 2019, the Irish have won 7 of the last 10 matchups. Although the Trojans beat the embattled Irish 45-27 in 2016, the Irish have won the three matchups since that game. The Irish won last year’s contest in South Bend by a score of 30-27. With three consecutive wins under its belt, the Irish are hoping to start a new decade of dominance against the Trojans.


Erin Fennessy | The Observer
Senior quarterback Ian Book runs with the ball during Notre Dame’s 30-27 win over USC on Oct. 12 in Notre Dame Stadium.

2019 performance and outlook

The pressure was on USC head coach Clay Helton in 2019. After a disappointing 5-7 finish to the 2018 season, most people believed that Helton needed to at the very least compete for a Pac-12 title in 2019 to keep his job. Although the 2019 season went better for USC, it still did not live up to USC’s standards of excellence. The Trojans ended their 2019 campaign with an 8-5 record that included an embarrassing 49-24 loss to Iowa in the Holiday Bowl to cap the season. Despite this record, Helton remains USC’s coach for 2020.

USC’s season was put in jeopardy week one against Fresno State when starting quarterback JT Daniels suffered a season ending knee injury. This injury might have been a blessing for the Trojans, though, as back up Kedon Slovis stepped up and looked to be a better quarterback than Daniels. In 2019, Slovis completed 282 passes for 3,502 yards and threw for 30 touchdowns on the season. Daniels recently announced that he is transferring from USC, so Slovis is expected to remain USC’s starting quarterback in 2020.

USC had multiple talented receivers last year that included Michael Pittman Jr., Amon-Ra St. Brown and Tyler Vaughns. Pittman was the top receiver for the Trojans in 2019 with 1,275 yards receiving. Although Pittman will be in the NFL in 2020, the Trojans return St. Brown and Vaughns, who both had over 900 yards receiving last year and six touchdown catches apiece.

One obvious weakness for the Trojans last year was their defense. Their defensive weaknesses were on full display in their bowl game against Iowa last year where they gave up nearly 50 points to an Iowa team that at many times struggled to reach the end zone last year. These defensive issues will need to be addressed if USC is going to be a national contender in 2020.


(Way-too-early) predictions:

Hayden Adams — Sports Editor

A lot will hinge on this game in my opinion. If it’s not Notre Dame’s College Football Playoff hopes, then it’s a shot at a New Year’s Six Bowl, or at least a respectable one like the Citrus Bowl. Then again, I suppose we should really only treat the stakes as high if it is a CFP berth on the line. Regardless, I am worried about this game if for no other reason than making sure the Jeweled Shillelagh stays in South Bend.

The Trojans gave the Irish a run for their money last year as Slovis threw for 255 yards and two touchdowns and Markese Stepp seemed to carry tacklers with him on every rush. Somehow, they seem to be getting better and better despite Daniels going down in the 2019 season opener and Helton looking like a lame duck head coach last season. This won’t be like 2018, where Notre Dame could shrug off a slow start to beat the Trojans, because they’ll be motivated to make sure their three-game losing streak to the Irish doesn’t reach four.

However, the fact that Notre Dame has been in this position before, and Helton is still helming USC, leads me to believe the Irish will find a way, and in a perfect world cap off another undefeated season.

Final: Notre Dame 33, USC 27


Jimmy Ward — Associate Sports Editor

Heading out west to end the regular season is always nerve wracking. Heading out West to meet USC in the Coliseum is about as nerve wracking as it gets.

Despite their loss to Iowa in the Holiday Bowl to cap their season last year, USC really didn’t look all that bad last season, and they nearly came away with a win in arguably the most electric game of the season in Notre Dame Stadium under the lights. There is no doubt in my mind this will be a primetime game and a lot will be on the line.

It will be a war in the trenches and through the air. I believe the Irish will get the job done, as of course the biggest noise coming out of USC right now is Gus Duggerton, a fictional heavyset offensive coordinator thrown into the spotlight by Barstool’s Pardon My Take host “Big Cat.” Unfortunately for USC, Duggerton, like almost everything out of Los Angeles, is fake and phony, and they will not be able to defeat the Irish when they meet in real life. The Irish will close out the season 10-2.

Final: Notre Dame 27, USC 24


Nate Moller — Sports Writer

There is nothing like ending the season on a high note with a win in the Los Angeles Coliseum. When the Irish clinched a spot in the College Football Playoff with a win two years ago and USC was not even bowl eligible, there was no better feeling. On the flip side, when the Irish got blown out at the Coliseum in 2016 and finished the year 4-8, I was about as sad as any fan could be. Like most Notre Dame fans, almost as soon as I learned to love Notre Dame, I learned to hate USC. In fact, one of the first memories I have of Notre Dame football is watching the Irish agonizingly lose to the Trojans in 2005 when I was four years old because of the infamous “Bush Push.”

2020’s matchup should be an interesting one. After USC’s victory in the 2017 Rose Bowl, it appeared USC was on its way to being back on the national stage, but the Trojans have not lived up to expectations since that game. I expect 2020 to be a big turnaround year for the Trojans. Slovis has two of the top targets in the nation in St. Brown and Vaughns and leading rusher Vavae Malepeai return as well. Despite this talent, I think Notre Dame is still an overall better team because of USC’s defensive struggles. While the Irish will surely have to be on top of their game to win this one, I expect quarterback Ian Book to find a second gear in his last regular season game with the Irish and lead the Irish to victory in a high scoring affair.

Final: Notre Dame 45, USC 38

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