After being routed at Oregon State, USC will be trying to bounce back and extend its eight-game winning streak against Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish have weathered a season marked by tragedy and are riding a modest two-game winning streak. Staff writer Gary Klein looks at the game's key issues and matchups:
A week ago, USC's Lane Kiffin appeared to be headed toward finishing his first season with a five-game winning streak and 10 victories.
Now he needs two wins to ward off the howls of a USC fan base that grew accustomed to mostly dominating Notre Dame and UCLA under predecessor Pete Carroll.
Notre Dame Coach Brian Kelly, successor to Charlie Weis, has his own issues.
The Fighting Irish are bowl-eligible going into their season finale against the Trojans, but the death of student videographer Declan Sullivan last month hangs over the program and the school. It also has been alleged that an unidentified Notre Dame player sexually attacked a 19-year-old woman who later was found dead in an apparent suicide.
This is the first time since 1941 that USC and Notre Dame will play with both teams guided by new coaches. In 1941, Frank Leahy led Notre Dame to a 20-18 victory over Sam Barry's Trojans.
Seize the day
With Matt Barkley nursing a high ankle sprain, fifth-year senior Mitch Mustain is expected to make his first start for the Trojans.
Mustain last started a game as a freshman at Arkansas in 2006. He struggled while completing eight of 17 passes for 60 yards in the second half against Oregon State and is 20 for 34 for 165 yards and a touchdown this season.
Tommy Rees is the ninth freshman to start at quarterback for the Irish. Rees was pressed into service when former Sherman Oaks Notre Dame High star Dayne Crist suffered a season-ending knee injury against Tulsa on Oct. 30.
Rees has helped the guide the Irish to consecutive victories over Utah and Army, completing 13 of 20 passes in each game. He has passed for eight touchdowns, with five interceptions, in seven games.
Backup backup plan
What's next if something happens to the backup quarterbacks?
USC would turn to walk-on John Manoogian, a strong-armed third-year sophomore who played eight-man football at Los Angeles Windward High. Manoogian is confident that if called upon, "I'll know Notre Dame's defense and I know how to get people in position to be able to execute."
Tailback Dillon Baxter, reinstated this week after his eligibility was suspended for accepting a golf cart ride on campus, would be next in line after Manoogian.
Freshman quarterback Jesse Scroggins is happy that Kiffin will not burn his redshirt year.
"They kept to their word of keeping my year," Scroggins said. "That was the point of redshirting. It's the perfect time for Manoogian to get the chance. He's helped me out a lot."
Nate Montana, son of Notre Dame legend Joe Montana, is listed second on the Irish depth chart.
Coming to their defense
USC's defense needs help, or at least sustained drives from a Trojans offense coming off its worst performance of the season.
USC's struggling secondary appears to be getting even thinner, with cornerback Torin Harris limited because of a shoulder injury and backup cornerback T.J. Bryant having undergone shoulder surgery. Brian Baucham could get extensive playing time as a nickel back.
Middle linebacker Chris Galippo, despite suffering a concussion against Oregon State, said he'll play.
Notre Dame has not given up a touchdown in 11 quarters, surrendering only a field goal in each of its last two games. Sophomore middle linebacker Manti Te'o, expected to play despite suffering a broken nose last week against Army, leads the Irish with 118 tackles.
USC's Joe Houston has made seven of 13 field-goal attempts. Jacob Harfman has averaged 41.7 yards a punt.
Receiver Robert Woods has averaged 25.6 yards per kickoff return, Ronald Johnson 16.2 per punt return.
Notre Dame's David Ruffer, a finalist for the Lou Groza Award, has made all 15 of his field-goal attempts this season and all 20 in his career. Ben Turk has averaged 38.3 yards per punt.
Bennett Jackson has averaged 22.5 yards a kickoff return, Cierre Wood 20.0. John Goodman has averaged only 1.4 yards per punt return.