USC Trojans (3-2 SU, 3-2 ATS) vs. Notre Dame Fighting Irish (5-1 SU, 5-1 ATS)
College Football Week 7
Date/Time: Saturday, October 17th, 7:30 PM EST
Where: Notre Dame Stadium
by Mike M., NCAA Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: USC +6 / Notre Dame -6
Over/Under Total: 60
Southern Cal travels to South Bend to take on Notre Dame for a primetime showdown in what will be the 82nd meeting between the teams. It is also the tenth anniversary of the notorious Bush Push game when USC beat the Irish 34-31 on the final play when Matt Leinart went for a quarterback sneak from the one yard line and was initially stopped by the Notre Dame defense but made it past the goal line when running back Reggie Bush pushed him into the endzone for the game-winning touchdown.
In a game that is never short on storylines, the biggest one entering Saturdays is how the Trojans will react after head coach Steve Sarkisian was fired on Monday hours after initially being suspended by athletic director Pat Haden for showing up heavily intoxicated for Sundays practice. Some were calling for his suspension after an incident at the Salute to Troy pep rally back in August when Haden had to remove Sarkisian from the stage after he was clearly drunk and slurring his way through what was supposed to be a motivational speech to the USC players, coaches, staff and donors but instead turned into a profanity-laced nonsensical tirade. News was released soon after the suspension was announced that Sarkisian was under the influence of alcohol during the teams 42-14 victory at Arizona State jus two weeks ago and that at one point his assistant coaches had to pull him out of a team huddle because of how inebriated he was acting. One five-star recruit, linebacker Daelin Hayes, has already decommited to Southern Cal after news broke of the Sarkisian firing and more are rumored to possibly do the same and in turn tarnish what was ranked as one of the best recruiting classes in the country. All of that was just too match for the USC administration (and boosters) and the team released word that Sarkisian was let go late Monday afternoon.
Offensive coordinator Clay Helton will take over head coaching duties for the immediate future and is now the fourth different coach in the past five years to call the shots for USC against Notre Dame. Helton led USC to a 45-20 Las Vegas Bowl win to end what was a turbulent 2013 season for the Trojan coaching staff. The team started the year with Lane Kiffin as their head coach but after a 62-41 loss at Arizona State in late September, Kiffin was pulled off the team bus at three in the morning after they had landed at Los Angeles International Airport and was not only fired in a backroom at the airport, he wasnt even allowed to ride back to campus with the team. Kiffin was than replaced by interim head coach Ed Orgeron, but he angrily left the team right before the bowl game when it was announced that USC was going with Sarkisian as their next head coach for the 2014 season, which in turn led to Heltons solo game of head coaching experience.
On the field USC enters the game with 3-2 record but have lost two of their last three games including a 17-12 home loss against Washington a week ago. They also lost center Max Tuerk for the year due to an injury suffered against the Huskies, which is enormous as he was not only their most experienced offensive lineman, but also one of their most talented players as many had him rated as the top center prospect for next years NFL Draft. The line will hope to do a better job giving senior star quarterback Cody Kessler more time to throw as he suffered his worst game of the season against Washington, passing for only 156 yards with zero touchdowns while throwing multiple interceptions for just the second time in his career. He will look to get back on track against a Notre Dame team that he torched last season when he threw for six touchdowns, including five in the first half, in leading the Trojans to a 49-14 win to close out their regular season.
Thankfully for the Irish their defense is substantially different than the one Kessler exploited in 2014, as this years team currently ranks 14th in the nation against the pass and hasnt been riddled with the same onslaught of injuries that left years team ill-equipped to deal with the Trojans high powered offensive attack. They will have to do a better job of stepping up their play in the first half, as they have recently run into issues in the first half of games. Three weeks ago they led UMass by just one point halfway thru the second quarter before scoring 41 straight points to put the game away. A week later Clemson drove straight down the field for touchdowns on their first two drives and led 14-0 before some had even gotten to their seats as the Irish dug themselves an early hole they could never get out of as they eventually lost 24-22 for their lone blemish on the season. Last Saturday against Navy was more of the same, as the Midshipmen had the Irish tied 21-21 with under 30 seconds left in the first half before the defense finally stepped up, allowing Navy just 95 yards of total offense in the second half on the way to a 41-24 win and cover for Notre Dame.
Freshman quarterback DeShone Kizer continued to exceed expectations for Irish fans in last weeks victory against Navy, competing over 70 percent of his passes (22/30) for 281 yards and a touchdown along with one interception thrown. It was running back C.J. Prosise that stole the show for the Irish though, as he followed a rough game against Clemson in which he ran for just 50 yards on 15 carries by plowing through the Navy defense for three rushing touchdowns to go along with 185 yards of total offense. Wide receiver Will Fuller also got things back on track with 80 yards receiving and a touchdown after a tough game against the Tigers where he had just 2 catches for 37 yards and was held out of the endzone for the only time this season. The Trojan defense ranks just 64th in the country overall and Notre Dame offensive trio of Kizer/Prosise/Fuller will look to keep things going and help keep some of the pressure off their defense going up against the prolific USC offense.
The Battle for the Jeweled Shillelagh is one of the most abounding and legendary in college football history, with both teams combining for the most national championships, Heisman Trophy winners, All-Americans and Hall of Famers (both college and pro) than any other rivalry in the NCAA. Despite the historic success of the teams, this will be the eighth time in their last nine meetings where both teams are not in the top 25 but at least this year one of the teams is ranked as four times in the past five years neither team was. Their recent history has been streaky, with Notre Dame going unbeaten between 1983 -1995 and then USC winning eight in a row between 2002-2009 along with winning five straight in South Bend from 2003-2011.
The key to the game will be how USC responds to this weeks controversy surrounding Steve Sarkisian.. This is a further and untimely black cloud over a program that was just getting back on track after the school was put on probation after the Reggie Bush illegal gift investigation. The Trojans could seemingly rally around each other in a addition by subtraction scenario similar to what Illinois football has done this year after their coach was removed from the team to start the season and they responded by unexpectedly winning four of their first five games. Southern Cal certainly has the star power to succeed, especially with Kessler at the helm of an offense that includes super sophomore receiver Ju-Ju Smith and has enough all around talent to have warranted a #8 ranking in the AP Poll to start the year.
I liked Notre Dame game when the game opened with them as a three point favorite but with the news of the Sarkisian firing the line has since doubled to six., I definitely have concerns with the recent coaching upheaval and the chance of Southern Cal uniting together against the turmoil, but that being said, its difficult to go against a strong Notre Dame team that has already done some rallying of their after suffering a brutal rash of injuries to start the year and has covered in their last four games overall while also beating the spread in their last four games at home and their last four against teams with a winning record. Go with the Irish to win and cover in South Bend.
Mikes Pick to Cover the Point Spread: Notre Dame -6
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