A bowl bid is generally regarded as a reward for a successful season, even though that might be stretching it a bit.
USC was invited to the Aloha Bowl against Alabama last year with a 5-5 record. Notre Dame went to the Liberty Bowl in 1983 with a 6-5 record, going in on the momentum of a three-game losing streak.
The Trojans, with a 7-3 record this season, will play Auburn in the Florida Citrus Bowl Jan. 1. Notre Dame, with a losing record of 4-6, has just missed the qualifying standard for a bowl bid.
Never mind. The Irish have designated Saturday's game with USC at the Coliseum as their bowl game.
"Everybody on our team is approaching USC as the biggest game of the year," Notre Dame quarterback Steve Beuerlein said. "We're all a little bit down, of course, from what's happened. And I don't know if anybody is fully going to get over it, especially the seniors.
"So, we're looking at USC as our bowl game. Traditionally, it's the biggest game of the year for us and one of the two biggest for them."
Beuerlein, the former Servite High School quarterback, has had a frustrating career. There were the three years under Gerry Faust when the team lost some of its confidence. Then, there was renewed hope under new Coach Lou Holtz, only to have to endure close losses to some of nation's best teams--Michigan, Penn State and LSU.
"We were so very close so many times that you just wonder after four years what it takes to get a break," Beuerlein said. "We've been in so many situations this year where we've had a chance to knock off some big teams in the last few minutes of a game and it just didn't work out.
"If it hasn't proven anything else, we're a team to be reckoned with. Unfortunately, it doesn't show up in the wins and losses, and we won't be going anywhere over the holiday. All of that is a very big disappointment to me and the rest of the team. To end this year with anything other than a win would be hard to get over."
Beuerlein's frustration is apparent, and he'll try to take it out on the Trojans.
There is some solace, though, for him knowing that he has been a productive quarterback, rebounding from a shoulder injury that limited his effectiveness last year.
Beuerlein is Notre Dame's career passing leader in completions, 455; attempts, 823, and yardage, 6,242. For the season, he has completed 57.3% of his passes for 1,926 yards and 9 touchdowns while throwing only 6 interceptions. He had thrown 119 passes without an interception until the LSU game last Saturday.
From a statistical standpoint, he has benefited from playing for four years under the freshman eligibility rule. Such famous Notre Dame quarterbacks as Johnny Lujack, Paul Hornung, Terry Hanratty and Joe Theismann didn't have that opportunity.
Beuerlein had an imbalance in his passing statistics, though, coming into the season. He had thrown 37 interceptions compared to only 14 touchdown passes.
He was only mediocre last year, and he admits it.
"There were a lot of reasons for what happened last year," he said. "The bottom line is that I didn't produce. A lot of that has changed this year. Coach Holtz has put me in a situation where it's a lot easier to be successful.
"We're throwing more on first downs, there are more variations to our offense and it's not as predictable or as conservative as it might have been in the past."
Beuerlein had shoulder surgery in April, 1985. He said an inch of his collarbone was removed from his right side.
"The rehabilitation time for the surgery was four months," he said. "I played the whole season with arm strength about 50 to 55%. Looking back, I should have taken the whole year off.
"But I was hungry to play and it was Coach Faust's last season, and I wanted him to be successful. But I hurt the team by trying to play. I just wasn't ready."
He said his arm is strong now and that he's able to put some zip on a ball, something he couldn't do last year.
When Faust's five-year contract wasn't renewed, Beuerlein had some apprehension about the coaching change.
"My initial response was that I was kind of concerned because he (Holtz)had been associated with some type of the option and I didn't know what his plans were concerning myself," Beuerlein said.
Beuerlein is a big quarterback at 6 feet, 3 inches and 200 pounds. He has fair mobility in the passing pocket, but he's not a running quarterback like USC's Rodney Peete or Oklahoma's Jamelle Holieway.
"But my concern lasted only to the initial meeting with Coach Holtz," Beuerlein said. "From that point on, I was very comfortable with the whole situation. The option was not something we were going to live and die with. But we do run it some, so the defense better prepare for it."
Beuerlein said that, in his mind, Holtz is a unique coach.