Five easy pieces to solving USC-ND puzzle

Will the Irish upset the Trojans? Or will No. 1 USC roll past No. 9 ND? Ivan Maisel and Pat Forde have the answers.

Updated: October 14, 2005, 3:38 PM ET
By Ivan Maisel and Pat Forde | ESPN.com

Will No. 1 USC roll past No. 9 Notre Dame? Ivan Maisel has five reasons why that will happen. Or will the Irish take down the Trojans? Pat Forde found five reasons to believe in the upset. Take a look:

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Forde: 5 reasons why ND wins Maisel: 5 reasons why USC wins
1. USC is due: Lugging around a 27-game winning streak and the world's biggest bandwagon gets heavy after a while. We've seen the Trojans struggle to meet the initial challenge from hyped-up opponents the past few weeks, and Notre Dame looks like the best team they've played to date. 1. They know how. In the 136-year history of the game, there have only been 17 winning streaks longer than USC's current 27 in a row. A win would put the Trojans in a tie for 14th.
2. Two weeks to prepare: Charlie Weis has quickly established himself as one of the leading tacticians and defense undressers in college football. We've seen what he can do to teams on seven days' notice. Now he's had 14 to get ready for a USC defense that has some holes in it. And his team is as healthy as it's going to get. 2. Yes, USC has fallen behind teams it has no business falling behind. It has let teams hang around for too long. But the bottom line is that the Trojans have a second-half scoring margin of 168-42, which has resulted in no victory margin of fewer than 10 points this season.
3. USC's cornerbacks: vulnerable? On Tuesday, Weis went through a detailed review/salutation of the Trojans. He listed all their accomplishments, and made an impressively thorough run through the depth chart. But there was one position Weis glossed over in his praise-a-thon: cornerback. When a reporter asked him about it, he quickly responded, "I know about [John] Walker and [Justin] Wyatt. I know who they are. Knowing them and attacking them are two different things." Know this: ND wideout Jeff Samardzija has 5 inches on Walker and 7 on Wyatt. 3. Matt Leinart has used the Irish secondary for target practice. In two games, Leinart is 50 of 68 for 751 yards, nine touchdowns and no picks. You can make the case that the Notre Dame defense is better this season. But the numbers are simple: USC is fourth in passing offense with 349.2 yards per game, a .6378 completion percentage and a touchdown-interception ratio of 15-3. Notre Dame is 114th in pass defense, allowing 305.6 yards per game, a completion percentage of .5245, and a TD-pick ratio of 8-5.
4. Brady Quinn can go throw-for-throw with Matt Leinart. Check the stats on the two. They're virtually identical: Leinart has thrown for 1,646 yards, 12 touchdowns, three interceptions and is completing 65 percent of his passes; Quinn has thrown for 1,621 yards, 13 touchdowns and three interceptions and is completing 65 percent of his passes. If this turns into a shootout -- and it easily could -- Notre Dame's rifle is as powerful and accurate as USC's. (And the Irish have a running game, too, making them the most balanced opponent the Trojans have faced.) 4. There have been cold, rainy October Saturdays when USC was beaten the minute it ran onto the grass at Notre Dame Stadium. In 1995, the Irish, in short sleeves, beat the Trojans, huddled on the sideline in hooded slickers, 38-10. Saturday won't be one of those days: 66 degrees and sunny, which sounds like a typical January day in Los Angeles.
5. God and 80,000 people want it this way: Notre Dame has beaten No. 1 a record eight times in its history, and there's a reason for that. From Touchdown Jesus on down, the entire storied program seems to rise to these occasions -- with a serious home-field advantage to go with it. No offense to Oregon or Arizona State, but this will be the toughest road atmosphere USC has seen. 5. No. 5, Reggie Bush, and his running mate, LenDale White. They are 11th and eighth, respectively, in rushing in Division I-A. USC is averaging more than 640 yards per game on offense. Notre Dame may try to play keep away -- the Irish are averaging 34:30 per game on time of possession. But it may not matter. USC has 17 scoring drives of five plays or fewer. Bottom line: USC has better playmakers than Notre Dame.

Ivan Maisel and Pat Forde are senior writers at ESPN.com. Ivan can be reached at ivan.maisel@espn3.com and Pat can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.

Ivan Maisel | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com