The streak ends in South Bend
Justin Schuver, Sports Editor
I am reminded of a trip I took to Los Angeles last season as a sports writer with Notre Dame's student newspaper. A few football beat writers and I were having lunch in downtown L.A. when some USC fans came up to us and, after seeing us decked in ND gear, started talking trash.
I remember our reaction. "Yep, you're right. You're going to kill us. What's the fun in talking trash to a group who knows they'll lose before the game even starts?"
I tell you this story just to prove that I am not a homer, and will not simply pick Notre Dame in a game simply because they are my favorite team and alma mater. I am smart enough to realize when the Irish have no chance, as I did in the student newspaper when I predicted a loss in last year's Insight Bowl against Oregon State (a game Notre Dame lost 28-21).
That said, here is my prediction for next week: Notre Dame will beat USC. That is not a homer pick. It is a pick made based on objective reasoning and analysis. Here's why:
1. The Irish finally have an offense that can hang with the Trojans. In the past three seasons, when Notre Dame lost by 31 points to the Trojans each year, the Irish have actually been in the game for at least awhile. In 2004 Notre Dame led 10-3 at one point in the second quarter, and in 2003 the Irish were tied 14-14 early in the second quarter, but that was when USC started turning it on and the Irish couldn't keep up. This season, Notre Dame has an offense that is clicking on all cylinders (ninth in the NCAA with 504.2 yards per game) and should be able to stay with the Trojans until the very end.
2. Notre Dame has a bye week before the game. It is hard to fathom what kind of preparation Coach Weis has been able to accomplish with an extra seven days before the USC game. Those extra days give Notre Dame time to heal, time to better prepare and an edge that might be the difference in a close game.
3. The Irish are at home. Yes, Notre Dame Stadium is no longer the difficult venue it once was. Even so, the Irish faithful will be out and in full force and the House That Rockne Built will be rocking louder than any time in the past decade. The breath of energy that Coach Weis has breathed into the Irish fan base will be on full display next Saturday and the Trojans will need to be ready.
4. USC has had letdowns against far less-talented teams. Just last season, USC was on the ropes against Stanford – yes, Buddy Teevens' 4-7 Stanford – before coming up with a close three-point victory. It used to be that no team was in danger of having a letdown to Notre Dame, but after you've beaten a team three years in a row by 31 points, it might be hard for the Trojans to believe that this year's Irish are any different.
5. The Trojans are ripe for the picking. Last Saturday, Arizona State had a late lead before collapsing and letting the Trojans come back and win. What is amazing about that game is the fact that Arizona State had five turnovers and still almost won. If Notre Dame can take care of the football and make just enough defensive stops, they can pull off the victory.
Changing gears, here's this week's high school picks:
Athens Golden Eagles (3-3, 3-1) at Hartselle Tigers (4-2, 3-1): Athens has perhaps the best quarterback in Class 5A in Rob Ezell. But Hartselle was supposed to face a potent passing attack against both Austin and Russellville, and for the most part the Tigers shut those offenses down. It will be up to Montrel Murphy, Wes Chenault and the rest of the Hartselle offense to score enough. I think they will…Tigers 28, Golden Eagles 21.
Falkville Blue Devils (1-5, 1-3) at Priceville Bulldogs (3-3, 2-2): Priceville might be the story of the year so far. The team started the season 0-3 and has since rattled off three in a row to get back to .500 and with a good chance to make the playoffs for the first time in school history. The dream season continues…Bulldogs 27, Blue Devils 13.
Cullman Bearcats (4-2, 2-2) at Brewer Patriots (1-5, 0-4): Cullman might be looking ahead to Hartselle, so this is certainly no gimme for the Bearcats. They might be a little beaten up from their game against Athens last Friday, as well, but I still think that Cullman is a bit too talented for the Patriots…Bearcats 31, Patriots 20.
Hanceville Bulldogs (2-4, 1-3) at Danville Hawks (2-4, 1-3): Danville has three region games left, including a looming matchup in two weeks against Winfield. For the Hawks to even have a chance of making the playoffs, they have to take care of business against the Bulldogs. They will…Hawks 24, Bulldogs 14.