Grantland-X is already set on booking his ticket to Miami. The Twitter world is overwhelmed by fans so sure the Irish will blow by USC that they are already researching hotels near Sun Life Stadium. Quite honestly, I find myself doing the same thing – and it is terrifying.
Time for a reality check. Unfortunately it is not a win over Boston College or Navy or Wake Forest that stands between Notre Dame and its first trip to a BCS National Championship Game. It is the USC Trojans. A team that has beaten the Irish 9 out of the last 10 years, and quite often has done it in embarrassing fashion.
Yes, their star quarterback is injured (…or they might be faking it if you ask some of the more paranoid among us). And yes, Lane Kiffin is seemingly running the program into the ground (woohoo!). And sure, the men of Troy have an already scholarship-reduced roster depleted by injuries. All of these things should help ND fans sleep at night – but not too much.
USC certainly does not look like the team the HLS staff saw it as in our pre-season predictions. Nonetheless, you are kidding yourself if you think the ailing Trojans are worse than Pittsburgh or BYU, two teams that very nearly beat the Irish on their home turf.
On top of that, there is always something to fear about a team with nothing to lose and always something to concern you about a team floating on cloud 9. Throw in a coach that may very well be playing to keep his job and a quarterback that may be too young and foolish to be intimidated by the Notre Dame defense and you are starting to stir up a recipe that doesn’t look too appetizing just two days after a Thanksgiving feast.
A few weeks ago I wrote about how irrational fans are, with myself as Exhibit A, when it comes to Notre Dame football. This is another prime example of thinking that if the fans make the mistake of looking ahead to Miami then the team will too. We all know the team can’t afford to do that, and I’m fully confident Brian Kelly, the coaching staff and the team’s senior leadership won’t allow it.
Saturday is the perfect opportunity for an official changing of the guard in the ND/USC rivalry. Not even the most wildly optimistic fan on this side of Lou Holtz thought entering Thanksgiving weekend at 11-0 was likely, which has only added to the powerful emotions of the incredible three month journey we’ve been on. It is nothing short of a storybook ending for the Irish to have one game against their fiercest rival for a birth in the National Championship Game after such an extended period of pure Trojan dominance. Of course, as with all potential storybook endings the antithesis is soul-crushingly painful to consider.
This is the moment that true champions dream of, and this is the game that true champions win. Go Irish. Beat SC.
On a final note, I want to jog your memory and emotions through the tale of two very different games. First (video shown first below), Notre Dame’s game winning drive in 2010. Remember how good it felt? Now imagine a win this Saturday and amplify that feeling by 1,000. Second (video shown second below), if you can stomach it, USC’s version of ICON from last year’s game. It sucks and makes you want vomit (so don’t watch at work). Think about how you felt last year, whether you watched from in the stadium or from your living room. Now think about how the team felt and how badly the players and coaches want to erase it from their memories. Saturday is their chance, and Saturday it will happen.