SOUTH BEND, Ind. — The Southern California-Notre Dame rivalry is different than most.
It doesn’t involve in-state opponents, such as Alabama and Auburn, or schools from neighboring states, such as Michigan and Ohio State, or even an adversary with a similar mission, such as Army and Navy. USC and Notre Dame are separated by nearly 2,000 miles and their homes couldn’t be more different.
What the two private schools have in common is a history of great teams and great players. No other rivalry game can claim the 22 national championships, with 11 apiece, or the 13 Heisman Trophy winners (14 if you count the one Reggie Bush won in 2005 that was later vacated).
The game has helped vault the teams to national championships and cost them titles as well. Lately, though, the game has not lived up to its reputation.
Since Notre Dame won three straight over USC by four points from 1989-91, the game has been known more for lopsided victories than exhilarating finishes. Only seven of the past 21 games have been decided by a touchdown or less, including a 17-17 tie in 1994. During that same span, USC won six times by 20 points or more while the Irish did it once. The Irish won three others by two touchdowns or more.
It’s not just the competitiveness that has been lacking. While at least one team has been ranked in 64 of the 75 meetings since The Associated Press started the poll in 1936, this season marks the third time in the past four years where neither has been ranked. The last time both teams were ranked was when the No. 3 Trojans beat sixth-ranked Notre Dame 44-24 in 2006.
Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said last year it hadn’t been a great rivalry of late because the Irish hadn’t won enough. He said that’s changed now that the Irish have won two of the last three, with last season’s 22-13 victory sending the Irish to the BCS championship game. Kelly said he hopes moving ahead both teams will be competing for BCS bowl berths and playing “on equal footing.”
“I think both programs are looking forward to those days where it’s a great matchup year in and year out,” he said.
It’s been a while since that has been the case.
When USC (4-2, 1-2 Pac-12) seeks its sixth straight win against the Irish (4-2) at Notre Dame Stadium today (Irish haven’t won at home since 2001), the two teams apparently will have one thing in common.
The schools believe Notre Dame running back Amir Carlisle will become just the second player to compete on both sides of the rivalry Saturday. He was a kick returner as a freshman for the Trojans in 2011, although he never touched the ball, and transferred to Notre Dame after the season. The only player to previously play for both sides in the rivalry game was wide receiver Speedy Hart, who played for the Irish in the “Green Jersey” game in 1977 and for USC in 1980, playing for the winning side each time.