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Winner Claims Its Stakes

Major bowl bids will be on line as top-flight, top-10 teams renew a great rivalry

November 30, 2002|Gary Klein | Times Staff Writer

Carson Palmer's first impression of the USC-Notre Dame rivalry remains vivid.

Palmer was at the Coliseum in 1996, a high school quarterback thinking about his future, when USC defeated the Fighting Irish in overtime.

"The Coliseum erupted," Palmer said. "It was an amazing event to be a part of."

Palmer, USC's fifth-year senior quarterback, is hoping to set off a similar celebration tonight when the sixth-ranked Trojans play seventh-ranked Notre Dame in a game that carries bowl championship series implications for both teams.

USC (9-2) has clinched a share of the Pacific 10 Conference championship, and can win the title outright and play in the Rose Bowl if UCLA defeats ninth-ranked Washington State next week. Regardless of that outcome, a victory over Notre Dame would position the Trojans for a possible at-large berth in the Orange Bowl or Sugar Bowl.

Notre Dame (10-1), under first-year Coach Tyrone Willingham, also is in the running for a berth in the Orange or Sugar bowl.

USC players, however, say they are not considering anything beyond the outcome of today's game. They are determined to put the finishing touch on what could be the Trojans' first 10-victory regular season since 1988.

"The seniors know this is our last game at the Coliseum and we want to end our careers there on a high note," linebacker Mike Pollard said. "The only thing we're thinking about is beating Notre Dame."

USC, which has not committed a turnover in its last two games, extended its winning streak to six games by routing UCLA last week, 52-21. To win seven in a row, keep second-year Coach Pete Carroll unbeaten in November and extend their home winning streak to nine games, the Trojans must overcome Notre Dame and recent history.


* The Trojans have not defeated the Fighting Irish, or any team ranked in the top 10, since shutting out Notre Dame, 10-0, in 1998.

* They have not defeated UCLA and Notre Dame in the same season since 1981.

* They have not defeated their two rivals in consecutive games since 1978.

* They have not defeated a team coached by Willingham since 1998.

"We've turned around a couple losing streaks this year, beating Oregon and Stanford, so we're not worried," senior wide receiver Kareem Kelly said. "If we play our game and don't make mistakes, we know we're going to have a chance to win."

Palmer, who became the Pac-10's all-time passing yardage leader last week, has completed 62.1% of his passes for 3,214 yards and 28 touchdowns with only eight interceptions in 412 attempts.

"It's obvious to anyone that is following SC football, he is playing the best football of his career," Willingham said. "Most would probably say as well as any quarterback that may have ever played there."

Notre Dame ranks fifth in the nation in total defense and second in pass-efficiency defense.

Willingham-coached teams also have a history of success against Palmer. In three games against Stanford, Palmer threw one touchdown pass and five interceptions.

But Palmer said Notre Dame would not benefit from films of his performances against Stanford.

"I was watching film from last year's game and I was like, 'Wow, we were a different team back then,' " Palmer said. "We've changed so much and gotten so much better than last year."

So has Notre Dame since Willingham replaced Bob Davie last Dec. 31.

The Fighting Irish shut out Maryland in their opener, 22-0, and were unbeaten after eight games before Boston College upset them at South Bend. Ind., 14-7.

Notre Dame hung on for a 30-23 victory over Navy and shut out Rutgers last week, 42-0.

Quarterback Carlyle Holiday has passed for 542 yards and five touchdowns in the last two games, but the Fighting Irish are a run-oriented team. Ryan Grant has rushed for 1,001 yards and scored nine touchdowns.

"This is a team that will overpower you if you allow them to do that, run the ball down your throat," Carroll said. "Very few teams that we have played in the last six or seven weeks have had the ability to do that."

Notre Dame's victory over Rutgers was its first in convincing fashion since a 31-7 victory over Stanford on Oct. 5. The Fighting Irish are 6-1 in games decided by eight points or fewer.

USC, meanwhile, has not played a close game since defeating California, 30-28, on Oct. 12. The Trojans' average margin of victory over their last five opponents is 23 points, and it would have been greater if not for late touchdowns by Oregon and UCLA against USC reserves.

"This could end up being a very defensive, low-scoring game," Carroll said. "I'm comfortable with that. That's the kind of game that I know better than the other end of it. That's why the turnovers and not making the critical mistakes are so fundamental to how we play.

"I think this could be one of those games."



Chart Toppers

USC-Notre Dame results when both teams are ranked in the AP top 10:

*--* Ranking Year USC ND Result 1938 8 1 at USC 13, Notre Dame 0 1939 4 7 USC 20, at Notre Dame 12 1947 3 1 Notre Dame 38, at USC 7 1952 2 7 at Notre Dame 9, USC 0 1965 4 7 at Notre Dame 28, USC 7 1966 10 1 Notre Dame 51, at USC 0 1967 1 5 USC 24, at Notre Dame 7 1968 2 9 at USC 21, Notre Dame 21 1972 1 10 at USC 45, Notre Dame 23 1973 6 8 at Notre Dame 23, USC 14 1974 6 5 at USC 55, Notre Dame 24 1978 3 8 at USC 27, Notre Dame 25 1979 4 9 USC 42, at Notre Dame 23 1988 2 1 Notre Dame 27, at USC 10 1989 9 1 at Notre Dame 28, USC 24



No. 6 USC vs.


Today at the Coliseum

5 p.m., Channel 7


The Facts

The series when both schools are ranked in the AP top 10:

Record: 7-7-1

At USC: Trojans lead, 4-3-1

At Notre Dame: Irish lead, 4-3

When USC is ranked higher: Trojans lead, 5-3-1

When Notre Dame is ranked higher: Irish lead, 4-2

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