Weis predicts USC-Notre Dame will be the big story
Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis gathered his players after the final practice before the 25th-ranked Fighting Irish face No. 6 USC on Saturday and made a prediction.
"I said, 'Saturday night, fellas, you're going to be the lead story in the country one way or another. You're going to be. So which lead story do you want to be?"'
The storyline he'd probably like to see most is Jimmy Clausen having the game of his life to beat the Trojans, ending a record seven-game losing streak by the Irish to USC to become a leading Heisman Trophy candidate. The one he'd like to see least? Another USC blowout, putting his job in jeopardy.
The latter might seem more likely considering six of USC's seven victories have been by 20 or more points.
Weis, though, is convinced the Irish (4-1) have a chance against the Trojans (4-1) after playing in four straight games decided in the last-minute, the last three victories.
"Where everyone would like to look on the negative side and say, 'Well, you're just eking out games at the end of the games.' The flip side is you're building some toughness. You're building some intestinal fortitude when you're playing in games like that," Weis said.
USC coach Pete Carroll agrees, saying Notre Dame looks like a different team than the squads the Trojans have faced the past few seasons.
"They have the confidence of being able to hang in very difficult games and come back and win and all of that. All that just adds to your mindset. They've got to be just about as strong as they've been in years," Carroll said.
That has Irish fans hoping, if not believing. The excitement around South Bend hasn't reached the fever pitch of four years ago when top-ranked and two-time defending national champion USC was on a 27-game winning streak and the Irish led by Brady Quinn were ranked No. 9. The pep rally was held at Notre Dame Stadium and a record 45,000 people showed up.
But there is an excitement not felt around campus since then. Players say they can feel the buzz around campus.
"If I didn't know any better, I would think that all of the student body was getting ready to play on Saturday," tailback Armando Allen Jr. said.
There's a lot at stake for both teams. The loser will have a much tougher time earning a Bowl Championship Series berth. There also will be about 50 high school recruits at the game, both seniors and juniors.
The game also is receiving a lot of national attention. Notre Dame has issued about 669 media credentials, the most since hosting Penn State in 2006. Spokesman Brian Hardin said it's the most issued to national media since the USC game in 2005.
That game was one of the best in the history of the rivalry, with the Irish taking the lead with 2:02 left before Matt Leinart scored the game-winning touchdown in the closing seconds with help from a push by Reggie Bush.
There have been other great games. The Trojans ended Notre Dame's 26-game unbeaten streak in 1931 with a last-minute field goal. They also came from a 24-0 deficit, scoring 55 points in 17 minutes to beat the Irish in 1974.
In 1977, when Weis was a senior, the Irish switched to green uniforms just before kickoff and upset the fifth-ranked Trojans 49-19 en route to the national championship.
Weis needs another big win like that, although he said the Irish won't be wearing green like the last two times the teams met in South Bend. One of the knocks against Weis has been he's lacked a signature win. Critics have said the same of Clausen, who is 0-4 against ranked teams. But Weis said it's not him or Clausen that need a big win now.
"I think everyone needs it. I don't think it's the head coach. I don't think it's the quarterback," Weis said. "I think Notre Dame needs it."