The traditional rivalry between the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and the USC Trojans is a storied epic in the world of college football. This is an annual game that pits two of the most historically dominant programs against each other in a gridiron duel to determine who will take home the Jeweled Shillelagh for one more year. This rivalry has yielded a plethora of notable games, like the 1977 “Green Jersey” matchup, in which the eventual National Champion Irish squad would reel off a 49-19 dominating win; or the infamous 2005 “Bush Push” in which the eventual National Champion Trojan squad would win on a last second run by Matt Leinart 34-31.
We Irish fans will never forget the latter.
This is a rivalry of elite football programs. Between them are 22 national championships, 13 Heisman winners, 146 NFL first round draft picks, and 1,709 all-time wins. That is a level of prestige that few other rivalries can boast; the only one comparable is Ohio State - Michigan. (For reference, OSU-UM share 19 national championships, 10 Heisman winners, 121 NFL first round draft picks, and 1,832 wins.)
Notre Dame, at least to some degree, has this rivalry to thank for its coast-to-coast influence. Traveling to Southern California required yearly cross country trips, which ultimately gave the Fighting Irish a nationwide presence unlike that of any other college football program. This was the University of Notre Dame’s personal manifest destiny.
Without the pivotal decision to play the Trojans, does Notre Dame become the powerhouse that it was in the 20th century? Does Notre Dame claim 11 national titles, boast 7 Heisman winners, or pile up 800+ wins? Does Notre Dame become the first program with a television contract that airs its games across the United States? Does Notre Dame pull in recruits simply because of the value of its name?
There's no way to truly tell, but it's hard to believe Notre Dame could be the entity that it is today without that shared history with Southern Cal.
The University of Southern California and the University of Notre Dame have histories that are undeniably intertwined. Both programs - to some extent - have each other to thank for their respective rises to prominence.
The background to this rivalry that commands respect. This game means so much to both programs. This is greater than a rivalry with Michigan, in which the Wolverines only occasionally want to play the Irish. This is greater than rivalries with Navy and Michigan State, who have been insignificant compared to the USC in the past. This is Notre Dame’s biggest rivalry. Because of the histories of dominance between the two programs, because of the bitter distaste for one another, and because of what this all entails for each program, there is a certain amount of reverence that this game warrants.
Very few other programs face off in a game of this magnitude on an annual basis. This is something that we should appreciate, as it can be just as much fun as it can be devastating. There have been ups and downs, of course, but this year's showdown is surely of significance. USC is sitting at #11, and Notre Dame at #13. This is a matchup between two top-15 programs, both of which are eyeing a trip to the Playoffs with National Championship aspirations.
The stakes are once again high. With both programs entering Saturday sporting a loss, you could replace “high” with “astronomical” to get a better idea of what this matchup truly is; this will go beyond being just another confrontation between rival programs. Rarely do rivalry games mean so much, not only for the fan bases of each team, but also on a national scale. It doesn’t get any better than this.
I’ve talked highly of the Trojans and what their involvement with Notre Dame has meant to this football program. But you don’t have to like USC. In fact, I implore you to embrace that hatred; be the embodiment of the wonderful disdain that one can only get in college football. Savor it, take solace in it, hold onto it with all you've got. Love that sweet, sweet hatred, because these teams only meet once a year.