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TELANDER: Trojans could spoil it all for Irish

Notre Dame would like be celebrating Saturday night after its game against USC. | Alonzo Adams~AP

Notre Dame would like to be celebrating Saturday night after its game against USC. | Alonzo Adams~AP

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Updated: December 24, 2012 7:27AM



There are two college football games everybody is going to watch, and they both involve Notre Dame.

The first one is this Saturday, in Los Angeles, at the Coliseum, against Southern Cal. Naturally, all USC and Notre Dame fans will be watching. But everybody else who cares about college football will at least be checking out the game from time to time. Please don’t say you won’t be. There’s too much at stake.

The Irish are 11-0 and ranked first in D-1 ball, and the Trojans are 7-4 and a little ticked off about losing to UCLA last week and Oregon and Arizona a month ago and Stanford before that. This is Southern Cal, remember, where probation and returned Heisman Trophies and carpetbaggers like Pete Carroll mean nothing. But five losses sure would.

And the second game, God and Everett Golson willing, will be Notre Dame against whomever in the BCS Championship Game on Jan. 7 at Sun Life Stadium in Miami. A lot of folks believe the opponent will be Alabama, an embarrassed franchise that allegedly will come back from its shocking loss to Texas A&M and that rarest of heroes named “Johnny Football,’’ and in the ferocity of slighted dignity and talent, it will beat Notre Dame the way a baboon beats a cheap suitcase.

In this world, there are two kinds of people: those who love Notre Dame and those who hate Notre Dame. That the Irish have a mean defense and an erratic offense led by redshirt freshman quarterback Golson only makes the haters more vicious. You can’t defend your way to a national title, they say. (Of course, this is after they’ve said they hate Notre Dame for reasons that go back to before the Mayflower.)

Then they go further. You can’t luck your way to a crown, losers! Then they bring up Notre Dame’s weakest wins — dubious come-from-behind victories over Purdue and BYU, a triple-overtime squeaker over Pittsburgh and any game substitute quarterback Tommy Rees played in.

Naturally, that stuff’s unfair. A win is a win. And Rees, slow and unimposing and seemingly the only person on earth who can make coach Brian Kelly’s face turn eggplant purple, is nothing but a winner. Two of ND’s wins this year came with him at the controls late in the games, and in the final 21/2 minutes of any game he has entered, with the Irish tied or behind, he has completed 18 of 25 passes, with three TD drives and two field-goal drives. As a starter, the junior’s record is 12-6.

But in that second game, the BCS title game, everybody, including television broadcaster ESPN and all advertisers, is ecstatic about the possibility of having Notre Dame go for it all. And that’s what we must mention here — it is only, right now, a possibility.

Notre Dame could easily lose to the jacked-up Trojans and their brash, large (6-4, 245), inexperienced but talented fill-in quarterback Max Wittek. The redshirt freshman will be starting his first college game in place of injured Matt Barkley. But he has the best target in the land, national reception and yardage leader Marqise Lee, a wideout with 107 catches for 1,605 yards.

The Trojans are loaded on offense, but they must go against the Manti T’eo-led Notre Dame defense, which is tied with Alabama for giving up the fewest points in the nation per game (10.1). You can weigh this thing any way you want, but the point is, Notre Dame could lose.

And there goes that title game. And there comes the crowing of the haters. Told you so!

But none of this is easy, even that possible Alabama matchup for everything.

I remember the last time Notre Dame won the national title. I was there for the regular-season-ending game for the Irish against USC, in the Coliseum. It was 1988, and both teams were undefeated. Notre Dame, led by weak-armed quarterback Tony Rice and a ferocious defense, beat USC 27-10.

Before the game, Notre Dame coach Lou Holtz said, “When I came here, I heard all the reasons why Notre Dame couldn’t win again: no redshirting, tough schedule, tough academics, no special courses for athletes, no athlete dorms.’’

Holtz even suspended leading rusher Tony Brooks and leading receiver and punt returner Ricky Watters from that game for bad behavior. And the Irish still won.

Sounds like history coming back.



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