USC mascot Traveler performs during the game between the USC Trojans and… (Stephen Dunn / Getty Images )
Let's see if I've got this straight or crooked: Notre Dame needs one win to get to the national title game and Sports Illustrated puts the Irish on this week's cover?
I don't believe in genies or goblins, but the SI cover jinx is real. If you don't believe it do an archives search to last week, when Kansas State's first-ever week at No. 1 in the Bowl Championship Series standings was harpooned by an editorial decision in New York.
Kansas State got its cover blown by unranked Baylor, the worst-ranked defense since Grenada.
Why can't Sports Illustrated put a Southeastern Conference school on the cover?
Sometimes you just have to scratch your helmet and ask: How come the team that is supposed to win so often doesn't?
Notre Dame (11-0) heads west to play depleted USC with a national title bid at stake. The Trojans are reeling with a 7-4 record and starting a quarterback still whistling Mater Dei High's fight song.
This is South Bend's game to lose but you'd be amazed how many times it happens. I still can't believe West Virginia, with a national title berth at stake in 2007, lost at home to Pittsburgh.
There is no way, to this day, to satisfactorily comprehend UCLA's 13-9 win over USC in 2006 and Stanford's win over USC in 2007.
Notre Dame's own game notes this week reveal that Irish national title hopes have been derailed seven times by USC at the Coliseum — seven!
In 1964, the Irish were No. 1 and 11-point favorites against unranked USC (6-3) and raced to an early 17-0 lead. USC rallied to win, 20-17, on Craig Fertig's scoring pass to Rod Sherman with 1 minute 33 seconds left.
The 1970 Notre Dame team was 9-0 and No. 4, and had Heisman Trophy candidate Joe Theismann, who threw for 526 yards against USC in a … 38-28 loss.
In 1980, the Irish were 9-0-1 and headed for the Sugar Bowl against Georgia. USC was playing without Marcus Allen, out with an injury. The Trojans won, 20-3.
USC also helped dash Notre Dame's plans at the Coliseum in 1938, 1948, 1974 and 2006.
It's worked the other way, too. Notre Dame wrecked USC's parade in 1947, 1952 and, of course, 1988.
Of course, USC is playing an untested quarterback, which is a whole different column. But you could ask USC fans about UCLA's untested Norm Dow back in 1966.
Notre Dame is on the cover of SI and USC hasn't lost to UCLA and Notre Dame in the same season since 1995. Maybe this is why coaches of top-ranked teams are always so moody and fidgety.
Stop me if you've heard this before (but you haven't):
•The Pac-12 Conference title game will be hosted Nov. 30 by Stanford if it beats UCLA, Oregon if defeats Oregon State and UCLA defeats Stanford, or UCLA if it beats Stanford and Oregon State beats Oregon.
Order your tickets now, but don't ask me how or where.
•There's a chance this year's BCS title game could match teams that didn't win their own division of their conference.
That game is … Oregon vs. Florida.
Oregon has an easier path to the BCS title game than the Rose Bowl. The Ducks could finish 11-1 but lose the Pac-12 North to Stanford. And Georgia has already clinched the SEC East ahead of Florida.
Let's say USC pulls off the upset against Notre Dame. If Georgia loses to Georgia Tech on Saturday but defeats Alabama next week, and Florida defeats Florida State, Florida is in the BCS title game.
Don't give up, either, on Alabama vs. Oregon. That could still happen should USC beat Notre Dame and Florida State defeat Florida.
•I asked Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott this week how he sees the latest expansion news — Rutgers and Maryland to the Big Ten Conference —impacting the Pac-12.
"I don't," Scott replied.
Well, that's what he says now. The Big Ten's raid on the Big East and Atlantic Coast conferences may set off another chain reaction of realignment. The Big Ten may not stop at 14 teams on its way to 16 and the Big 12, with only 10 schools, may also go shopping to make its league at least a dozen. Things are likely to get vicious and ugly again, only this time the Pac-12 is a content spectator — but for how long?
It was Scott, remember, who envisioned 16-team super conferences and twice made plays to lure Texas and Oklahoma. Can the Pac-12 really sit still if the Big Ten goes to 16? The Pac-12's lucrative television deal makes it easier for the conference to stand pat. Geography also limits the Pac-12's options. League presidents were adamant last year that they did not want to expand beyond 12. Yet this greedy land-grab business never seems to stop.
•Finally, an ode to 86-year-old John Gagliardi, the legendary Division III St. John's (Minn.) coach who announced his retirement this week after 60 seasons in the hut-hut haven he created at Collegeville:
Gagliardi won an all-divisions record 489 games with a "no rules" philosophy that challenged the "Junction Boys" construct that football players had to be treated like boot-camp soldiers. My favorite Gagliardi rule: no practice if there were too many gnats.
"I eliminate the unnecessary," Gagliardi liked to say. "And I think almost everything is unnecessary."