The USC Trojans and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish continue the greatest intersectional rivalry on Saturday in a series loaded with college football history. Notre Dame and USC have combined for 22 national championships, 14 Heisman Trophy Winners, 177 All-Americans, 84 College Football Hall of Fame inductees, 997 NFL Draft picks, and 25 NFL Hall of Famers.
The rich history of the rivalry also includes some more recent trends headed into Saturday’s game many of which are atypical:
- In many ways if Notre Dame wins Saturday it will be their best home win in the Brian Kelly era at least, and possibly their best win at home since Lou Holtz left a couple of decades ago.
- USC has not won in South Bend since 2011. Their last two trips to Notre Dame were with a different head coach than the one they started the season with. Lane Kiffin was fired in an airport tarmac/meeting room/bathroom (depending on who you ask) in 2013, and Steve Sarkisian’s substance abuse problems led to Helton taking over just prior to the Notre Dame game in 2013.
- 2011 was also the last time Notre Dame lost a game after a bye week. That loss was to USC.
- Notre Dame has not beaten a ranked USC team since 1995. That streak is old enough to legally drink alcohol now.
- The score at the end of the 3rd quarter may be telling. In the last two seasons Notre Dame has played 9 games decided by only 1 score. The Irish are 1-8 in those games.
- In that same time frame the Trojans have played 7 games that were either decided by one score or were still in doubt in the fourth quarter. USC is 5-2 in those games and one of those losses came in Darnold’s first career start on the road against Utah.
- In six of the the Trojans’ last 8 games (dating back to the Rose Bowl last season) USC has been trailing or tied in the fourth quarter. They are 5-1 in those games.
- USC is the highest ranked team in the AP poll that Notre Dame has hosted in the Brian Kelly era.
- A top 10 team in the Coaches Poll has also not played at Notre Dame in the Brian Kelly era USC currently sits at 10.
- Notre Dame has not beaten any top ten opponent at home since 2004
- USC on the other hand has not managed to pick up consecutive victories over Notre Dame since Pete Carroll left.
A long history of National Championship implications:
Depending on how you count both Notre Dame and USC have ended the others National Championship aspirations. Again in 2017 both teams have an opportunity to knock their rival out of playoff contention. There is still plenty of football left to be played but with both schools already having one loss picking up a second is almost certainly fatal.
A look back at McKay, Holtz, Carroll and others who dominated the rivalry:
Notre Dame leads the series 46-37-5 which is relatively even. This history of this rivalry however is remarkably streaky. We are currently in one of the few periods where victory has swung back and forth. Both schools have gone on multiple runs of a decade or more of dominance over the other. The first 40 years of the series was lopsided with Notre Dame leading 23-11-4 with coaches like the great Knute Rockne and Frank Leahy.
In 1967 John McKay began to turn the tide and John Robinson kept it going as USC started a dominant run for the Trojans from 1967 until 1982 going 12-2-2 against the Irish in that span. The Trojans found remarkable success against an Irish team coached by legends Ara Parseghian and Dan Devine.
After Robinson’s exit things got bad for USC. Notre Dame’s regrettable decision to hire Gerry Faust still yielded three consecutive wins over the Trojans. Faust left and things went from bad to worse USC when Lou Holtz arrived in South Bend. Holtz went 9-1-1 against USC during his career at Notre Dame. The Trojans would go 13 years without defeating Notre Dame.
The Trojans went on a brief 3 year winning streak from 1996-1998 and the Irish would do the same from 1999-2001. 2001, of course, was the year Pete Carroll rolled into town and conquered the college football world along with dominating Notre Dame.
Carroll left USC in 2009, Brian Kelly arrived at Notre Dame and since 2010 The Irish have won four to the Trojans three. We could be looking at a new historical trend in the series, or the start of another dominant run.