USC vs Notre Dame: The repercussions of rivalry
When the Trojans and Irish collide this weekend, there are two obvious rewards at stake. One is the jeweled shillelagh, which has been the trophy of the series since 1952. The other is the bragging right that comes with it. But there are many other repercussions that stem from this great rivalry. Some are immediate, while others take time to surface.
One obvious result is the national championship. With 22 titles between the two schools, the most of any rivalry, the path of a champion often leads to staring a nemesis in the eyes before pushing aside the obstacle. But punishments and rewards for wins and losses go far beyond titles. They may not have the shine of a champion, but are equally relevant in the shadows of victory.
2001- Pete Carroll agreed to take over the head coaching duties of a failing USC football program. In doing so, he threw himself into a college football pressure cooker, and dove head first into rivalry. The coach failed in his opening attempt, with the Irish scoring a 27-16 victory in South Bend. Already feeling the heat of a 2-4 start, Carroll dropped another game, and this time to a bitter rival. Lynch mobs were forming, and the local press was publishing the “mistake” of USC’s hire. Carroll and his Trojans bounced back from defeat, winning the remainder of the regular season games, including a victory over UCLA. In his nine year tenur, Carroll has never been under fire as he was in the moments following his loss to Notre Dame. He’s never faced a repeat of that harsh criticism, and since that day, he’s never lost to the Irish.
2002– In Carroll’s second season, USC was a top-ten program hosting the 12th ranked Irish in a regular season finale. Neither team played for a national championship trophy, but another piece of hardware was won on this day. Carson Palmer passed for 425 yards and 4 touchdowns, as USC cruised to 44-13 victory. Beneath the bright lights, and on the national stage, the senior quarterback threw for the most yards ever by a Notre Dame opponent. In doing so, he secured enough votes to become Southern California’s fifth Heisman Trophy winner, and the first hurler to accomplish the feat.
2003– USC saw a repeat of Carson Palmer’s 4 touchdown performance against the Irish. With a new face leading the program, the Trojans traveled to South Bend, where Matt Leinart lit up the Midwestern skies with 351 yards. No. 1 USC gave Notre Dame an old fashioned 45-14 paddling, and both Matt Leinart and receiver Mike Williams began to appear on Heisman ballots.
2004- With the series moving back to Los Angeles, Matt Leinart topped his previous performance, with 400 yards passing and connecting for 5 touchdowns. It was a 44-10 victory for USC. Matt Leinart became the second Trojan to win the Heisman Trophy in 3 years,with the quarterback using Notre Dame to solidify his campaign, just as Palmer had done before.
At the conclusion of the game, the University of Notre Dame announced the termination of football coach Tyrone Willingham. Willingham suffered three consecutive embarrassing losses to USC, and the former National Coach of the Year was evicted from his Indiana home.
2005– In what many call “the greatest game ever played“, the defending champion Trojans survived the scare of a Notre Dame team full of fight. Unlike the contests in years prior, victory wasn’t sealed until the final second ticked from the clock. Reggie Bush finished with 307 all purpose yards and 3 touchdowns. But despite the numbers, what will always be most memorable is the assisting push that launched Matt Leinart into the end zone for the winning score. This classic propelled the tailback to the top of Heisman Trophy ballots, eventually become the third Trojan in 4 years to win the award.
For the new Irish coach, Charlie Weis, he was rewarded with a 10-year extension worth and estimated $30-40 million. The athletic department had high hopes for a first year coach that was able to keep a rivalry close, but the raise would prove to haunt the Irish in years to come.
Ironically, the difference between winning and losing came down to the play of Reggie Bush. Bush was a recruit that had Notre Dame high on his list of colleges, but former coach Tyrone Willingham failed to land him.
Repercussions on the horizon– This year’s version of the rivalry is no different than years past. Notre Dame quarterback Jimmy Clausen is positioned to make his biggest statement for the Heisman Trophy, with the young Matt Barkley ready to put an early stamp on his campaign for 2010. Joe McKnight has an opportunity to steal the spotlight, launching him further up the ballot, and Golden Tate can seize the moment to electrify a national audience and increase his draft stock.
Charlie Weis may not have a better opportunity to prove his worth. Sizzling on the hot seat for two long years, his program is 4-1, but without a significant victory. He can tighten his noose by losing this game, potentially bringing death to his tenure in South Bend. But a victory places the heat on Pete Carroll and his program of high expectations, as it would eliminate the Trojans from National Championship contention.
It’s more than a shillelagh and bragging rights. It’s an audition for college football’s most prestigious award. It’s advancement and elimination. It’s cashing in on incentives and termination. It’s rivalry. It’s USC and Notre Dame.