Inside Slant

The Sports Xchange

November 21, 2018 at 10:07 am.

Stakes high for Irish heading into rivalry

Brian Kelly’s early memories of the Notre Dame-USC rivalry go back to the late 1960s, when the Fighting Irish defense tried desperately to slow down Trojans running back O.J. Simpson.

The rivalry has been plenty intense since then and the stakes will be as significant as ever in the 90th meeting Saturday night when No. 3 Notre Dame (11-0) visits USC (5-6) in the regular-season finale for both teams.

Notre Dame is trying to finish off an undefeated regular season and a spot in the College Football Playoff. A win over USC likely could secure the Fighting Irish a spot in the top three, which means it likely would avoid a semifinal matchup with No. 1 Alabama — another incentive for Kelly’s squad not to stumble against the Trojans.

Maybe that’s why Notre Dame arranged to sit down for its Thanksgiving dinner as a team late Thursday afternoon, then board a flight to Southern California later that evening.

“I like to get them out there Thursday to the West Coast, get the clock open Pacific Standard Time,” Kelly said to reporters during his weekly news conference in South Bend, Ind. “You can do that when you leave on Thursday.”

No one can fault Notre Dame for its timing so far this season. The Fighting Irish have won each of their past four games by double digits, including a 36-3 rout over then-No. 12 Syracuse a week ago at New York’s Yankee Stadium.

Now comes a matchup against a sub-.500 USC team that is desperate for a win to secure bowl eligibility. Trojans coach Clay Helton is squarely on the hot seat as his team has lost two straight games and four of its past five contests.

But Kelly knows that when it comes to an opponent, desperation can equal danger.

“(They have) highly recruited players that are really good football players,” Kelly said. “Playing there is never easy, so we have to go across the country and play a team that obviously has a lot of potential.”