“USC is a very, very talented football team that is playing in a rivalry game,” Kelly said. “They'll play their very best against us.”
Kelly regards this series that dates back to 1926 (this will be the 84th meeting) as a rivalry, but he simply doesn't consider it – in its current state – as a good rivalry.
“It's not a great rivalry right now,” Kelly said. “We haven't won enough games.”
The top-ranked Fighting Irish (11-0) have beaten the Trojans (7-4) 43 times during the series (USC has won 35 times and there have been five ties), but only once in the past decade.
“They've had the upper hand in this,” Kelly said. “We need to make this a rivalry, and that is, we need to win some more football games against a great opponent.”
In case anyone is curious about Notre Dame's frame of mind after ascending to No. 1 in the latest BCS standings, Kelly said the poor performance by his program over the past 10 years resonates with his current players, as does the fact that the Irish got plastered – in South Bend no less – 31-17 a year ago by the Trojans.
“Our guys know,” Kelly said of the poor record. “They've been around. They were here last year when we got beat.”
A year ago, the Trojans jumped out to a 17-0 lead and were never seriously threatened. USC accumulated 443 yards of total offense and held the ball almost twice as much as Notre Dame did (39:41 to 20:19). In essence, the Trojans dominated the Irish.
What made the defeat even more humiliating was the fact that Notre Dame was hosting a horde of recruits that weekend and was hoping to make a favorable impression on the prospects.
"That game in particular was certainly one where it required all of our players to really examine how they are going to be consistent winners,” Kelly said. “It was a great learning experience for everybody, including myself.”
That message has obviously gotten to the Irish players, as they have won 15 of 17 games since that loss. Kelly hopes that the momentum that USC has enjoyed can begin to swing back in favor of Notre Dame, as it did in the 1980s and 1990s (the Irish won 15 of 19 meetings at one point).
“To me, a rivalry, it's got to go both ways,” Kelly said. “This hasn't gone both ways; we've got one win out of 10. To me, that's getting your butt kicked. We need to win some games.”