After losing to Georgia in September, Notre Dame must win out to have a chance at making a return trip to the College Football Playoff. A 3-2 USC team would love to ruin that for the Fighting Irish as these two teams have spoiled each other's national title hopes at least 15 times.
Notre Dame and USC first met in 1926 and Saturday's contest marks their 91st meeting (Notre Dame leads 46-36-5 with three wins in the series being vacated). Along the way, they have played many great games. Here are the five best.
5. Notre Dame 13, USC 12
Nov. 16, 1929 (Chicago)
The Irish were unbeaten and the Trojans were 6-1 and sporting the nation’s best offense. When the teams went into the locker room tied at halftime, Notre Dame head coach Knute Rockne, who was suffering from phlebitis, gave a rousing speech from his wheelchair. The Irish scored six minutes into the second half when Joe Savoldi ran into the end zone for a touchdown and the extra point put Notre Dame ahead 13-6. USC responded on the ensuing kickoff with a 95-yard touchdown return by Russ Saunders, but the two-point conversion failed and that proved to be the difference. The Irish remained undefeated and went on to win their second national title.
4. USC 27, Notre Dame 25
Nov. 25, 1978 (Los Angeles)
The 9-1 Trojans overwhelmed the Irish by taking a 24-6 lead going into the fourth quarter. Then, as he had a knack for doing, Notre Dame quarterback Joe Montana led a furious fourth-quarter comeback and hit Pete Holohan with a two-yard touchdown pass to go ahead 25-24 with 45 seconds to go. However, the two-point conversion failed. USC drove 50 yards in four plays and kicker Frank Jordan nailed a 37-yard field goal for the win. The Trojans went on to share the national championship with Alabama.
3. Notre Dame 14, USC 14
Dec. 4, 1948 (Los Angeles)
Notre Dame had not lost since Dec. 1, 1945, and its only blemish since had been a 0-0 tie with Army in '46. But USC was on the verge of handing the Irish their first loss when Bill Martin scored on a four-yard run to take a 14-7 lead. Before the ensuing kickoff, Notre Dame’s return man Billy Gay asked the referee how much time was left and was told two minutes and 35 seconds. He said, “Thank you, sir, that’s enough,” and returned the kickoff 86 yards to set up the tying score. The Irish remained unbeaten until Oct. 7, 1950.
2. Notre Dame 38, USC 37
Nov. 29, 1986 (Los Angeles)
Limping through head coach Lou Holtz’s first season, the 4-6 Irish were down 37-20 to USC in the fourth quarter. Then quarterback Steve Beuerlein, who had been benched earlier in the game for throwing an interception, threw two touchdown passes and nailed a two-point conversion to cut the lead to 37-35. After going three-and-out towards the end of the game, USC punted to Tim Brown, who returned it 56 yards to set up the winning field goal by John Carney. This game set the stage for Notre Dame to win a national championship two years later.
1. USC 34, Notre Dame 31
Oct. 15, 2005 (South Bend, Ind.)
Defending national champion USC rode a 27-game winning streak into South Bend and Notre Dame was ranked ninth under first-year head coach Charlie Weis. Irish quarterback Brady Quinn ran five yards into the end zone to put his team up 31-28 with a little over two minutes to play. The Trojans moved the ball to Notre Dame’s one-yard line with seven seconds left, and head coach Pete Carroll signaled to quarterback Matt Leinart to spike the ball to kick a field goal, but in reality told him to go for the win.
Leinart kept it and tried to run in but was met by gaggle of Notre Dame defenders. Running back Reggie Bush helped out and pushed Leinart over the goal line for the win. The play is forever known as the “Bush Push.”
— Written by Aaron Tallent, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Tallent is a writer whose articles have appeared in The Sweet Science, FOX Sports’ Outkick the Coverage, Liberty Island and The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter at @AaronTallent.
(Top photo courtesy of WeAreSC.com)