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Thursday, November 22, 2012
Five Storylines: Notre Dame-USC

By Garry Paskwietz

1. Max Wittek: Talk about your tough beginnings, try getting your first start at quarterback on national television against the top-ranked team in the country. Welcome to the reality for USC's Wittek, a strong-armed redshirt freshman who will step in for the injured Matt Barkley against the Fighting Irish. Wittek knows how to follow Barkley -- he replaced him as the starter at Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei -- and he doesn’t seem phased at all by the opportunity, he went on ESPN Radio early this week and said, “we’re going to win this ballgame.”

2. Irish going for the title: It’s a bit of a role reversal from the preseason projections, as the Trojans were hoping to be the ones going for a national title. Instead, it’s the Irish who roll into town unbeaten and ranked No. 1. USC can point to six previous victories over undefeated Notre Dame teams as motivation, including twice when the Irish were ranked at the top of the polls. Only one of those games featured an unranked USC team, 1964, and the Irish left the Coliseum that day with a loss after Craig Fertig hit Rod Sherman on 84-Z Delay for a late toucdown.

3. USC offense vs Notre Dame defense: It remains to be seen how the presence of Wittek impacts the USC offense, as he has only attempted nine passes this season. The Notre Dame defense is one of the best in college football, led that a strong front seven that features linebacker Manti Te'o, a name that is all too familiar to USC fans. The Irish are ranked first in the nation in scoring defense (10.1 points per game), fifth in rush defense (92.2 yards per game) and sixth in total defense (287.8 yards per game).

4. USC Senior night: It’s safe to say that the 2012 season did not turn out as planned for the Trojans seniors, but this is their chance to leave a final lasting memory in front of the home crowd. There aren’t too many things that Trojans love to do more than beat the Irish -- especially when Notre Dame is on the brink of a return to the national title game -- and this group of seniors would love to be the ones who help make that happen.

5. Impact on USC's offseason: It’s impossible to overstate how important this game can be to the Trojans program heading into the offseason. A loss would mean USC ends the regular season by dropping four of its last five games, including both games to its main rivals. The program would be perceived to be on a downswing at a time when those rivals and others in the conference are trending up, a topic which is sure to be brought up on the recruiting trail. However, a win would give the Trojans something to enjoy and point to until the 2013 season begins. It would also be viewed as a sign of hope for the future, particularly if Wittek contributes to the win.