DC Trojan and I collaborated on this...
It is an interesting question that many have asked, particularly the Notre Dame faithful who have nothing they can look back on fondly from the Pete Carroll period of this rivalry... actually, if someone got hit on the head while rushing the field before the officials put enough seconds on the clock for the Bush push, and didn't see the end of the game, they'd have something positive to remember.
But back to the question at hand: Can Weis beat USC? The short answer is of course yes... if USC could finally beat Lou Holtz after their 13 game run without a loss against SC in the 80s and 90s, then Notre Dame as coached by Charlie Weis certainly can end the Irish drought. But it seems like it's more important this year. Is it that people see an opportunity with USC doing, if not rebuilding, some serious remodeling?
It's too short-sighted to think that this is just about USC: this seems like a make-or-break year for Weis. Many ND fans were clamoring for his head after last season until he beat Hawaii in the Hawai'i bowl game last season. That saved his hide, but now that he has apparently got out of his rut, the fans want to see further results...
Weis has brought a lot of this on himself.
As everyone knows, Weis came to South Bend with a lot of swagger. His overexposed quote to the team that his coaching style and experience would provide Notre Dame a "decided schematic advantage" over their opponents because of his involvement in the NFL winning three Super Bowls. Weis has leveraged that in bringing in some highly respected recruits during his tenure, but when results haven't followed, the rub has been can he coach them up?
Weis' best season was his first season where he took USC down to the wire before losing 34-31 with Ty Willingham's players. Despite sometimes heroic efforts, Brady Quinn and other strong Willingham recruits were left with some bad memories - although a lot of USC fans were left with a lingering respect for Quinn almost literally carrying the rest of the team in his last game despite getting crushed.
Weis just couldn't seem to get the results he originally promised with his players. Whether it as deliberate or just the perfect storm of suck, Weis has had a watered-down schedule the past couple of years in order to get "easy" wins. That didn't always quite work out as planned.
This season, Notre Dame has had some nail biters that have resulted in wins - 11 seconds from being undefeated, or a few plays from being 1-4, depending on how you look at it - and the fan base has a buzz, and Weis is now touting that even his players this year think they can beat USC this season.
That is telling...I would think that for a storied rivalry like USC - Notre Dame that the players would always think they could beat USC. This is the greatest and most historic inter-sectional rivalry in all of college football and this is the season that they think they can win? Assuming that this isn't a lowered expectations issue, or a positive thinking exercise, what makes this the year?
Because USC has a true-freshman QB at the helm? Because Jimmy Clausen looks a hundred times better than he did last year? Because ND is winning games that it should?
Well, on the one hand, it is possible: after all this is a rivalry game.
Notre Dame's wins this season have come against some sub-par talent. Yes, ND fans have already tried to point out that SC hasn't played lights out in with their schedule, but for a true-freshman to go on the road to Columbus at the Horseshoe and come out with the win, no matter how ugly some people though it was is impressive. And there have been some signs of improvement with the tactics used at Cal.
So the question remains is this Charlie Weis' year?
USC is the best defense that Notre Dame will see so far this season. Jimmy Clausen is going to see some pressure and so we will see just how well he handles it, and how well the hot Notre Dame WRs do against the SC secondary. After all, Cal WRs were getting open, but Riley wasn't getting passes anywhere near them.
Matt Barkley, on the other hand, will see a good but not great Notre Dame defense. Barkley needs to be mindful of the ND secondary as they are the strongest unit on the defense. This is probably not the week to attempt a passing-led offense.
To me, this could be Weis' Waterloo. On the plus side, he's got a team that's coming together and the linebacking Prussian pros aren't around to prevent a first down before the end of the third quarter. If he wins he saves his job. If Notre Dame loses, you have to wonder if Weis is as good as gone at the end of the season. The Notre Dame fanbase doesn't seem like they would tolerate another loss to USC, not with all the talent that Weis has recruited and with all the bluster and swagger he brought with him when he arrived.
I think he is going to have a tough time pulling it off... it's going to fun to watch!