Two storied football programs meet this weekend, with neither too pleased with their current status.
USC travel to South Bend to face Notre Dame on Saturday in a rare example of both programs being unranked. USC is in the second year of being ineligible for a bowl game, while Notre Dame started the season ranked 16th, but lost their first two games, and had to replace their starting quarterback after Week One.
At the moment, both the Trojans and Fighting Irish are on the cusp of cracking the Top 25. Notre Dame is ranked 27th, and USC is ranked 28th in the Associated Press poll. For many programs, having a solid win-loss record would be reason to rejoice, but the standards are high for USC and Notre Dame.
This will mark the 83rd meeting between the two schools, and only the 10th with both being unranked.
Both teams have firepower. Lane Kiffin's squad is led by junior quarterback Matt Barkley and wide receiver Robert Woods. They form an explosive combination that opposing defenses have focused on, but have struggled to contain. Barkley missed out on last year's game against Notre Dame due to injury, so he should be fired up to face the Fighting Irish this week.
Notre Dame have wide receiver Michael Floyd, a probable future first round pick, and running back Cierre Wood, who is having a big year. The Fighting Irish also have senior running back Jonas Gray, who has been on a tear in recent weeks.
Notre Dame's offense is really good, defensive coach Monte Kiffin told The Daily Trojan. You can't be more balanced than they are. Last year they were more of a passing team, but they've developed a pretty good running team this year.
Though USC have had their struggles on defense this season, they have some individuals who have proven their worth. The Trojans have an elite safety in TJ McDonald, and an effective defensive end Nick Perry.
Perry is a Michigander, but he's a kid that I'm aware 'cause of when I was in Michigan, said Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly. He's just an athletic player.
The Fighting Irish have a potential first-round draft pick in linebacker Manti Te'o, who USC coveted out of high school, but ultimately chose to go to the Trojans' rival.
I was sold on USC, I grew up a USC fan, Te'o told ESPN.com's Matt Fortuna. I was going to go to USC, then I prayed about it and I was directed here.
My first two years I said, 'OK, this is USC. I almost went there.' But going into this year I don't have that feeling anymore. I'm happy to play with the guys I'm with so it's just another game for me.
USC go into the game with revenge on their mind. They had won eight games in a row against the Irish, but lost last season, 20-16, when wide receiver Ronald Johnson dropped a sure touchdown pass near the end of the game, in wet conditions at the Coliseum.
Notre Dame will look to have a streak of their own, as quarterback Tommy Rees has been more effective this season. In last year's game, Rees completed 20-of-32 passes for 149 yards and two touchdowns, but all threw three interceptions. A big game for Rees on Saturday should propel Notre Dame to victory
While Rees will be under the microscope under the lights at South Bend, USC running back Marc Tyler and wide out Marqise Lee are both bothered by shoulder problems, and should receive a great deal of attention by the Notre Dame defense. USC has talented players, but they lack in depth, so Tyler and Lee's contributions will be of great interest.
Notre Dame have turned things around after turning the ball over 15 times in its first four games, and have had only two turnovers since. It will be interesting to see if USC can force turnovers as they did against a struggling Cal team in their last game, when they forced five.
To add to the mystique of the game, Notre Dame will match the color of the school's Golden Dome by wearing gold helmets. The game will be played under the lights for the first time at Notre Dame Stadium since 1990.
LINE: Notre Dame are 8.5 favorites.
PREDICTION: The game may very well come down to the defensive backs. Can USC contain Floyd with a depleted secondary, and can Notre Dame contain Woods, and USC's talented corps? Though these two clubs played a defensive game the last time they met, this might be a shootout as both will have explosive players on offense, and the weather conditions won't be wet like in 2010. Expect USC to find other options on offense like receiver Brandon Carswell. Notre Dame should test the Trojans' run defense by giving Gray some extra carries, but it may not be enough. USC has had a few more days of rest, and can expect their offense to bounce back after a lackluster performance against Cal. Air Force couldn't force a turnover against Notre Dame, but USC likely will. It will be an upset under the lights in South Bend.
PREDICTED SCORE: USC 34, Notre Dame 30