USC tailback Marc Tyler is fourth on the depth chart and might not get many frontline opportunities against Notre Dame, but he is looking forward to watching Fighting Irish quarterback Jimmy Clausen work against the Trojans' defense at the Coliseum on Saturday.
Tyler and Clausen were teammates at Westlake Village Oaks Christian High, where Clausen went 42-0 as a starter. Tyler said after practice Monday that he spoke with Clausen by phone Sunday, the day after the Fighting Irish lost to Syracuse, 24-23.
"He said he's still undefeated in California," Tyler said. "Hopefully, he'll leave here walking. I hope he makes it out of the Coliseum alive."
Clausen started nine games last season as a freshman but did not play in a 38-0 loss to the Trojans at Notre Dame Stadium. He completed 56% of his attempts and passed for seven touchdowns with six interceptions in 2007.
This season, Clausen has completed 60% and has passed for 20 touchdowns with 15 interceptions.
"He got through his first-year experience and is really coming around," USC Coach Pete Carroll said. "He can throw any ball you want.
"He's way more comfortable, just in control of stuff. It's obvious to see that."
Against Syracuse, Clausen completed 22 of 39 passes for 291 yards and two touchdowns without an interception. His 40-yard pass on fourth and 10 late in the fourth quarter set up a potential game-winning field goal, but the kick was short.
"He was like, 'They were throwing snowballs at us,' " Tyler said, referring to Notre Dame fans who pelted the Irish bench.
Tyler was in South Bend, Ind., and was ready to commit to Notre Dame on the April 2006 day that Clausen announced he would sign a letter of intent with the Fighting Irish, but his father suggested he call his mother first.
Tyler said he put off the call so he could talk with his mother at home.
"When I got back to California I was like, 'I can't leave here!' " Tyler said.
Tyler, a redshirt freshman, has 20 carries for 104 yards and a touchdown. He said he has no regrets about choosing the Trojans over the Irish.
"I think I would have played more and it would have been fun to play with Jimmy, but being here at SC, even if I have to sit and wait for my time, I think it's a good thing," Tyler said.
Safety Taylor Mays was selected as a finalist for the Thorpe Award, presented to the nation's top defensive back, and linebacker Rey Maualuga is a finalist for the Chuck Bednarik Award (defensive player).
The players will attend the nationally-televised announcement ceremony in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., on Dec. 11.
Mays, a junior who is regarded as a possible first-round NFL draft pick, said he was surprised.
"I didn't think I would make it because I don't have any picks," said Mays, who has no interceptions this season. "But I must be doing something right."
Senior safety Kevin Ellison (knee) is expected to try to practice today. . . . Freshman defensive tackle Armond Armstead suffered a fractured bone in his hand last week and wore a cast Monday. . . . Carroll said he spoke with fired Syracuse Coach Greg Robinson, a longtime friend and coaching colleague, and congratulated him on the Orange's victory over Notre Dame.