1. The weather forecast for Saturday's game (as of this writing) has the high temperature in the mid 40's with some chance of rain (or snow?). What weather would give Notre Dame the best chance to beat USC? Why?
I would have to say, cold and clear. The reason I would not like to see either rain or snow is that our offense hinges much more on the passing game than does USC's. With a rainy/snowy day, we would have to rely more heavily on pounding the ball against the Trojans. While our running game has improved significantly this season, I'm not sure we're quite at the point where we can count on it carrying us against a good defense. I'd much rather take my chances with Mr. Clausen being able to chuck it around the yard all afternoon. That said, a day that was unseasonably cold (think visible breath) might work out fine. That would probably be just enough to make the visitors a little uncomfortable with the conditions while still allowing the Irish offense to play its game.
Snow? Maybe with the '92 offense.
2. Irresistable Force or Immovable Object? Notre Dame's offense is ranked #10 in yards (470 per game) and #27 in points (32.6 per game). USC's defense is ranked #6 in yards allowed (238.6 per game) and #4 in scoring allowed (just 8.6 points per game). In 2008 Notre Dame had just 91 total yards against USC. Will the Notre Dame offense be able to move the ball on Saturday? If so, how?
Yes, I definitely think Notre Dame will be much, much better offensively than the last time they squared off against the Trojans. For one thing, Notre Dame seemed to come together as a team, particularly on offense, after their beatdown in LA. Second, USC's defensive numbers are a little inflated. Keep in mind, they haven't exactly faced a murderers' row of offenses. In order they've played:
San Jose State (115th in scoring offense, 118th in rushing offense, 73rd in passing offense and 117th in total offense),
Ohio State (46th in scoring offense, 41st in rushing offense, 108th in passing offense and 86th in total offense)
Washington (67th in scoring offense, 93rd in rushing offense, 42nd in passing offense and 74th in total offense)
Washington State (117th in scoring offense, 116th in rushing offense, 84th in passing offense and 120th...dead last...in total offense)
Cal (41st in scoring offense, 37th in rushing offense, 70th in passing offense and 49th in total offense)
In other words, they've had the benefit of playing, quite literally, two of the worst offenses in the country and several others who are case-studies in mediocrity. I certainly wish those who knock ND's schedule would keep things like this in mind when they heap praise upon the Trojans. Undoubtedly, USC has talent on defense, but they're also very green (8 new starters this year) and largely untested. Simply put, this defense has not faced an offense like Notre Dame's this season and, as a result, I think the Irish will be able to move the ball better than at any time in the last four years against SC.
3. USC's offense is #22 in yards (430.6 per game) and #53 in scoring (28.8 points per game). Notre Dame's defense is #100 in total defense (403.2 yards per game) and #59 in scoring defense (allowing 23.8 points per game). Will the Notre Dame defense be able to slow down the USC offense? If so, how?
Will the real Notre Dame defense please stand up. Because of how they've played this season, I have absolutely no idea which Notre Dame D will be on display against the Trojans. Will it be the ridiculously awful (giving up yards by the acre, missing tackles, blowing coverages), the remarkably good (three goal line stands against Washington, shutting out a potent Nevada offense) or some new wrinkle we've not yet seen? Who knows. With a defense that has as much youth and and as many moving parts as does Notre Dame's, I think calling it a work in progress is an understatement. Speaking of which, this game is going to be a great test of how just much progress has been made by Notre Dame's defense, particularly the front seven. USC's line is very good and very experienced, but if Tenuta can develop a scheme which enables the Irish to both slow the run (I'm not sure stopping the Trojans is a realistic goal) and bring some pressure, I think ND has a very good chance on Saturday.
4. In 2008, with Michael Floyd unable to play due to injury, Golden Tate had 2 catches against USC for a team-high 15 receiving yards. How do you expect Golden Tate to play against USC this year?
Much like Jimmy Clausen, Golden Tate has developed immensely as a player since last year's game against the Trojans. More importantly, though, the coaching staff has figured out ways to use him that make GT a weapon all game long. While I definitely think SC will give Tate a ton of attention, I expect that he is still going to get a bunch of yards. I would expect a heavy dose of quick passes, like short slants and outs, that can keep the defense a little off guard and enable Tate to use his natural abilities after the catch.
5. Jimmy Clausen has started to get some Heisman buzz. In your opinion, which Notre Dame player is the most deserving of Heisman attention, Jimmy or Golden Tate? Why?
They're both great candidates, but I have to go with Clausen. Tate has proven to be an incredibly versatile player who can hurt defenses in a lot of ways, but Clausen is unquestionably the key to the offense. In spite of losing his top receiver and playing with a bum toe on his plant foot, Jimmy has continued to be absolutely brilliant and astoundingly accurate. This season, JC has established himself as the premier QB in America and one who gives his team a great chance to win just by being on the field. That type of presence is, obviously, very special and the kind of thing that Heisman's are made of.
His jersey say's '7', but he'll be number '8' on ND's Heisman list.
6. Overrated or Underrated. Notre Dame cracked into the AP Poll at #25 this week. Are they overrated or underrated at #25? Where would you put them in your poll?
Slightly underrated. Last week, Ryan O'Leary, over at Blue and Gold, did a great job analyzing how the Irish have done thus far relative to the rest of the Top-25. What you notice is, in spite of the voter's mindless "analysis"; on the field, not much separates the performances of the various ranked teams. Should ND be a Top-10 team? Not yet, but I think somewhere between 15 and 20 is justified.
7. USC Song Girls: Ambassadors of Collegiate Goodwill or Anachronism from a bygone era of oppressive sexist stereotypes?
There is virtually nothing any decent, normal human being can possibly like about the University of Southern California (see my intro). That said, the Song Girls are awesome. Sure, sometimes they cheer at the wrong time, but they are consistently hot and thoroughly enjoyable.
8. Green Jerseys? There's a lot of "green" talk coming from campus this week, and it raises the question of whether the team will be wearing green on Saturday. Do you want to see the green jerseys or not? Why?
No, no, no...for the love of God, no! For years, the wearing of the green jerseys was a special occasion and, perhaps coincidentally, tended to augur well for Irish victory. Since Charlie's been coach, however, they've been used pretty much every season and, with the exception of beating a terrible Army team in 2006, not with much success. So, no, please don't bring out the green jerseys, please don't put names on the backs (ala last year's Hawaii Bowl) and don't erect a giant wooden horse like in '77. Just go out and beat SC mano a mano with no gimmicks, surprises or homages to past success. This team doesn't need to be nostalgic, it needs to punch the Trojans in the mouth and create its own place in Irish lore.
9. Name the next number in this sequence: -3, -20, -38, -35, _______. Explain.
I'm not noted for my optimism but, screw it, I'm going with +24. This is based, not on some crazy, Phil Steele-like formulation, but rather two things I can't help thinking: 1) after four straight nail-biters, ND is due to come out and thoroughly kick someone's ass, and 2) this team has to be completely fed up with losing badly to the Trojans. No one on this team has ever beaten them and the closest the seniors have come is a 20-point loss in 2006. In my gut, I think the confluence of those two data points should result in a surprisingly lopsided ND win on Saturday.