Game: Notre Dame vs. USC
When: Saturday, 3:30 p.m.
Why it matters: Because it’s everything for Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis. If the Fighting Irish can not pull off the home upset, the seat beneath Weis will turn blistering hot. The fifth-year coach has yet to beat the Trojans, and quite frankly has only even come close once.
This time around, Jimmy Clausen also has much at stake. He has earned the highest passing efficiency rating in the country against average defenses over the first five games. This is his opportunity to validate his Heisman Trophy campaign, as well as quiet the critics who believe he can’t handle Pete Carroll’s defense.
USC obviously needs this win in order to keep its national championship chances alive. Matt Barkley is making his second key road start early in his career. He is a good friend of Clausen’s, which is no secret, and I'll bet he’d love to upend his elder counterpart from Southern California.
Barkley simply managed the game against Ohio State early in the season, but with a few more games under his belt, you can expect to see a more aggressive offense in South Bend.
Player to watch: Golden Tate has been equally as key to the Irish’s success as Clausen thus far in 2009. In the absence of the injured Michael Floyd, Tate has picked up the slack in the wide receiving corps. He leads the team with 602 receiving yards, including four touchdowns.
Last time out against Washington, Tate made several huge plays in the second half and overtime to help seal the win.
If he does not haul in several passes, and even make a few special runs in the “Wildcat” formation, the Irish have little chance.
Who has the edge? Notre Dame is a talented football team, no doubt about it. However, as impressive as the offense has looked, they have allowed 30-plus points to Michigan State, Michigan, and Washington. USC has more talent on their scout team offense than all three of those programs combined.
Barkley is no longer a green freshmen whose poise is in question, like he was before the Ohio State game. He is now the unquestioned leader of the offense, and the Trojans’ best option to help win games.
With the exception of the Nevada game, the Irish have played to the level of their opponents every week. I expect Weis and company to challenge a less-than-average Trojan football team, but they just won’t have enough in the tank to hang around for four quarters.