By Brian Lichterman | Sports Editor
Tomorrow, Newport Beach’s own Matt Barkley may or may not lead the USC squad against Notre Dame in the 82nd rendition of one of the greatest intersectional rivalries in college football.
USC has won its last eight games against the Irish, including last year’s brawl in which Barkley quaraterbacked the Trojans to a 34-27 victory. But an injury last weekend has made Barkley a question mark for tomorrow’s showdown.
USC has also won its last 19 non-conference games, just one shy of the school record.
The last time USC lost to Notre Dame was in 2001, which coincidentally was the last time neither school was ranked going into their meeting. This game is also unique because it’s the first time since 1941 that both USC and Notre Dame have new coaches, in Lane Kiffin and Brian Kelly, respectively, and it’s the last home game for the USC seniors.
This game is legendary in nature and has featured epic battles and controversial plays, such as the, “Bush-push game,” where SC came into the game with a 27-game winning streak and scored in the last seconds when Matt Leinart snuck into the end zone after being shoved by Reggie Bush. The play was controversial because many thought the play went against the rule that states, “No other player on a runner’s team will grasp, push, or lift the player to assist them in forward progress.”
Tomorrow’s meeting should live up to past games, even if there are no post-season spots riding on the outcome.
The winner of the game gets year-long possession of the Shillelagh, a foot long Gaelic war club made of oak or blackthorn saplings from Ireland. The club has ruby-adorned Trojan heads with the year and game score representing USC victories and emerald studded shamrocks for Notre Dame wins.
Last week, during a blowout at the hands of Oregon State, Barkley sustained a fairly serious ankle injury, and if he’s unable to go, the Trojans will rely on Mitch Mustain whose last start came in 2006. Mustain was 8-0 as a starter at Arkansas.
SC’s leading rusher, Marc Tyler, was also injured in last week’s game but tailbacks Allen Bradford and C.J. Gable should be able to fill the void following fullback Stanley Havili through the Irish defense.
As mentioned a few weeks back in our paper, USC is ineligible for post-season play because of NCAA penalty, but Notre Dame became bowl eligible last week by tearing apart Army in Yankee Stadium 27-3.
Last year in South Bend, the No. 6 ranked USC squad built a 20-point fourth quarter lead behind Matt Barkley’s career high 380 passing yards and 2 touchdowns, but then had to stave off Notre Dame’s furious comeback as the Trojans turned away the Irish four times near the goal line at the end of the game to win 34-27.
Barkley went 19 for 29 in the game, and an impressive 11 of 14 for 234 yards in the second half. That victory put the Trojans among the elite company of Michigan and Michigan State as the only schools to beat Notre Dame eight straight times.
Another tidbit about the game and a bit of an odd fact is that not a single player on the USC team claims Indiana as their home, but nine players on Notre Dame hail from California.
Although the game doesn’t have as much sizzle as past years, it will be nationally televised on ABC and should still provide the same entertainment and drama as a USC/ND matchup always does.
Barkley is also officially on the “watch list” for three awards; the Maxwell Award (top player), the Manning Award (top quarterback), and the Davey O’Brien Award (top quarterback). USC and Notre Dame have two of the top football heritages in the country. Each has 11 national titles.
Notre Dame is third all-time in victories among Division 1-A schools with 843 and USC is tenth with 782 wins. Thirteen players from both schools have won Heisman Trophies and the schools have produced 340 All-American first-teamers.