No defense to the maize-and-blue faithful of Michigan, but Saturday night will capture a rivalry in the truest sense of the word for Notre Dame football fans.
USC – and that annoying (or melodic, depending on your perspective) fight song – will venture to South Bend to battle the Fighting Irish at 7:30 p.m. (NBC). And even though the two squads aren’t among the nation’s elite (neither is even ranked), this game will still enthrall the fan bases of the two storied programs, as well as attract pretty good television ratings all across the country.
“I think our players will be the first ones to admit that this is our rivalry game,” Fighting Irish coach Brian Kelly said. “This is our game that we look forward to against USC.”
Kelly isn’t being disrespectful to the other opponents on the Irish schedule, so you’ll have to excuse Kelly and his players. However, when you serve as everyone’s rival because of your national fan base (and the perks that come with it), it’s difficult to go along with that precipice every single Saturday just to make your opponent feel worthy of the designation of being “a Notre Dame rival.”
“I think we go through the season in so many weeks,” Kelly explained. “It’s you know, I think it’s on the other side. In other words, other teams really calling it their rivalry game.”
For example, Michigan.
The Irish-Trojan war is a compilation of 85 years of excellence, sweat, tears, venom, euphoria all spilled onto the field that make this series so incredible.
This game is about Anthony Davis’ six touchdowns in 1972 in a 45-23 USC win.
It’s Reggie Brooks’ 227 yards rushing in a 31-23 Notre Dame win in 1992.
It’s a 27-10 Fighting Irish victory in 1988 between the two best programs in the country that year, highlighted by Stan Smagala’s pick of Rodney Peete.
It’s the “Bush push,” for goodness’ sake.
The players, coaches and fans involved know what a rivalry is, and this is a special one.
“It’s one that it’s on our calendar as I don’t want to say a red letter game, but one that we look forward to,” Kelly said. “It’s such a great match-up, great tradition, great history. It’s part of the history of Notre Dame football that they really recognize as that one singular game.”
But when Kelly arrived in South Bend four seasons ago he didn’t recognize it as such.
Notre Dame was coming off its longest losing streak in the game’s history (eight consecutive USC wins from 2002 to 2009) and the new coach didn’t see it as much of a rivalry due to its one-sided nature. However, after winning two of his first three games against USC, Kelly is starting to come around a bit.
“I think we’re past that,” Kelly explained. “Now I think it’s we would hope that both programs are competing each and every year for BCS Bowls and playoff opportunities, and I think that’s where both programs want to be, that they’re on equal footing, that you don’t have to wait three, four years to get a win.
“You know, I think both programs are looking forward to those days where it’s a great match-up year in and year out.
There are no “BCS bowls or playoff opportunities” at stake Saturday night. However, there is pride in abundance to be had by the victors, and that is what a true rivalry is all about.