Let’s see, the nation’s premier Catholic university and most popular and polarizing football team in the country is No. 1 in the BCS standings for the first time ever and can play for its first National Championship since Lou Holtz’s 1988 squad. Do you think ABC executives are a tad giddy about Notre Dame’s prime-time matchup with Southern Cal on Saturday night? If it’s not the highest-rated regular-season game of the year I will be stunned, and it should draw immense betting interest as well as the Irish will play in the BCS National Championship Game with a win over the preseason title favorite Trojans.
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Notre Dame (11-0) was in the “others receiving votes” in the preseason AP poll but has become the first team to climb from unranked to the nation's top spot since Missouri in 2007. Meanwhile, USC (7-4) was No. 1 in the AP poll with Heisman favorite Matt Barkley having passed up NFL millions – a mistake it looks like now – to return to L.A. with the Trojans finally eligible for postseason play. But now the heat is on USC coach Lane Kiffin, although the school’s athletic director said Kiffin wasn’t going anywhere.
This is the 84th meeting in this storied rivalry. The Irish lead the all-time series 43-35-5 overall, but the Trojans lead 21-18-4 in Los Angeles. The Trojans have won nine of the past 10 overall. Last year, they beat the Irish 31-17 in South Bend when both were unranked (USC because of its postseason ban). Barkley threw three touchdown passes in Notre Dame’s first home night game in 21 years. The Irish turned the ball over three times.
Notre Dame at USC Betting Storylines
The big news here is that Barkley is out after suffering a shoulder sprain in last week’s loss to UCLA that cost the Trojans a spot in the Pac-12 Championship Game. He might be able to return for a bowl game, which won’t be a very good one if the Trojans lose again on Saturday. Redshirt freshman Max Wittek makes his first career start. He is 8-of-9 for 95 yards and a TD as Barkley’s backup this year. Wittek is a big guy at 6-4, 235 pounds and has a cannon. He actually succeeded Barkley as the starting QB at California prep powerhouse Mater Dei (also where Matt Leinart went) and was a top recruit himself. You might have seen some headlines this week saying Wittek “guaranteed” the Trojans would win the game, but that’s hogwash. He just said he thought his team would win – what is he supposed to say?
Wittek might be confident and talented, but he will face the nation’s top defense. While Irish head coach Brian Kelly was known as an offensive guru at Grand Valley State, Central Michigan and Cincinnati, defense has carried the Irish in 2012. That unit, led by senior linebacker and Heisman candidate Manti Te’o, is allowing a national-low 10.1 points per game. The Irish have limited seven of their opponents to either their lowest or tied for lowest scoring output of the season. Notre Dame has allowed nine touchdowns all this season – five fewer than any other FBS school. Te’o has a chance at the Heisman if Texas A&M Johnny Manziel and Kansas State’s Collin Klein don’t play well in their regular-season finales (Manziel vs. Missouri on Saturday, Klein vs. Texas next week) and Te’o has a huge game in front of the national TV cameras. But it’s a long shot. But he’s assured a trip to New York.
Southern Cal will present two big-time problems for the Irish defense: receivers Marqise Lee (in my opinion, the most talented offensive player in the country) and Robert Woods. Lee should win the Biletnikoff Award. He leads the nation in receptions (107) and receiving yards (Pac-12 record 1,605), is second in all-purpose yards (2,416) and third in TD catches (14). He will no doubt break the Pac-12 season receptions record on Saturday as he only needs five. Lee is a sophomore and will be back next year. Woods almost assuredly will declare for the draft. He has been a bit overshadowed by Lee this year but still has 66 catches for 721 yards and 10 scores. Can Wittek get them the ball?
The problem is the Southern Cal defense, which has a good starting group but is very thin. Arizona put up 39 points and 588 yards in an upset. Oregon had a whopping 62 points and 730 yards in its win, the most ever allowed by USC. Last week, UCLA put up 38 points and 406 yards. Yes, those are three good offenses, but Stanford has shown you can slow down even the best units.
This will be Notre Dame QB’s Everett Golson’s first USC game. And the dual-threat redshirt sophomore is coming off his best game, throwing for 346 yards and three touchdowns in less than three quarters in a blowout of Wake Forest. Golson is completing 59 percent of his passes for 1,918 yards, 11 touchdowns and five picks. He also has rushed for 258 yards and five scores. UCLA QB Brett Hundley is similar to Golson and Hundley torched USC last week. Remember, too, that Kelly has a good “reliever in the bullpen” in former starter Tommy Rees, although he hasn’t been needed for a while. Rees started vs. USC last year and was 23-of-37 for 190 yards with no TDs and a pick.
Notre Dame at USC Betting Odds and Trends
At BetOnline, Notre Dame is a 5.5-point favorite with the total at 46. The Irish are 6-5 ATS and 2-9 “over/under”. USC is 3-8 ATS and 5-6 O/U.
Notre Dame is 1-4 ATS in its past five vs. the Pac-12. The Irish are 0-5 ATS in their past five games following a win of more than 20 points. USC is 1-5 ATS in its past six vs. teams with a winning record. The under is 7-1 in Notre Dame’s past eight following an ATS win. The under is 6-1 in USC’s past seven home games. The under is 4-1 in the past five meetings. Notre Dame has covered once in its past five at USC.
College Football Predictions: Notre Dame at USC Picks
With all due offense to the Sun Bowl or Las Vegas Bowl, this will be Southern Cal’s postseason game. And the Trojans have a history of punking the Irish when they are unbeaten. A total of six times USC has ended an Irish unbeaten season when the game was the finale on the Irish’s regular-season schedule. Four of those wins were in L.A. and two were when Notre Dame was No. 1.The last time it happened overall was 1980 when the Irish were No. 2. Notre Dame and USC have played seven times in series history when the Irish were ranked No. 1 and Notre Dame is 5-2 overall. The only time a No. 1 Notre Dame team played an unranked USC team came in 1964, and the Trojans won 20-17 against Ara Parseghian’s squad.
Notre Dame is good, no doubt. Much better than I expected. But I still say the Irish are overrated – BetOnline has them as a nine-point dog to Alabama in the national title game should they meet. I think USC has a better than 50 percent chance of winning outright so take the points. Also the under.
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