Big League Clu previews one of the more well known rivalries in college sports.
In an unusual turn of events, I have decided to go against my MO for the Rivalry Trophy Series. For those of you who don’t know what it is, I try to find rivalries that nobody is aware of and bring them to light for the not so average sports fan. But I am breaking that streak today because we have a big football game on our hands. It, of course, has a trophy to go along with it, and not to mention national title I’mplications, so therefore it is deemed worthy to review. If you haven’t figured it out yet, I am talking about #1 ranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish and the USC Trojans in the battle for the Jeweled shillelagh.
#1 Notre Dame Fighting Irish (11-0) @ USC Trojans (7-4, 5-4 in Pac-12)
When: 11/24 at 8 PM on ABC
Overall Series Record: Notre Dame leads 43–34–5
Last Year’s Results: USC defeated Notre Dame 31-17
For those of you who have been under a rock for the entire duration of the college football season, I’ll make it nice and easy for you to understand. If #1 ranked Norte Dame beats USC this Saturday night, they are going to be playing for the national championship. That was easy enough right? Now for those who have been following college football all season long, I’m going to give you a little behind the scenes for both Southern Cal and Notre Dame. Lets start with the history behind the Jeweled shillelagh, shall we?
What the hell is a shillelagh? For those of you who aren’t Irish, like myself, a shillelagh is a walking staph used by little Irish leprechauns or Irishmen. The Jeweled Shillelagh is a trophy that actually originated in 1952 to commemorate a rivalry between USC and Notre Dame that started way back in 1926. It was created by the Notre Dame Alumni Club of Los Angeles and it was stated that “this shillelagh will serve to symbolize in part the high tradition, the keen rivalry and above all the sincere respect which these two great universities have for each other.”
For each win, a jeweled ornament from the winning school is placed on the shillelagh. When USC wins, a red ruby Trojan head is added with the year and game score. While for a Notre Dame victory, an equally detailed green emerald studded shamrock is placed. This is a traveling trophy. This means that the winner holds the trophy for the year. Because of their win last year, Southern Cal is currently in possession of the Jeweled Shillelagh. Here’s something interesting… the original shillelagh trophy was retired in 1989 because it ran out of space for its ornaments. A second trophy was created at the start of the 1997 season and the original is on display at the University of Notre Dame, go check it out sometime!
Why the Irish Are So Damn Good this Year
Now what has brought the Irish all the way to the verge of playing for a national championship? You could argue that what got them there is the brilliance of coaching from head coach Brian Kelly (26-10 in his 3 years as coach). The Fighting Irish are battle tested for sure. They have played in (and won) a ton of close games and they have gone against some of the best teams in the country as well. But you could just say that this team is loaded from top to bottom, which is definitely the case. The Irish rank #1 in the nation in points against, allowing a meager 10.1 points. LB Manti Te’o is a huge reason for that. He has 43 solo tackles on the year, not to mention the 6 INTs to go along with them. By the way, when was the last time Norte Dame was ranked #1 in the nation right? You actually have to go all the way back to November 1993 when they were rewarded with the #1 ranking after they beat Florida State 31-24 in what was called “The Game of the Century.”
Offensively, they average 200 rushing yards per game, which is good enough to rank them 33rd in the country. You can thank running backs Theo Riddick and Cierre Wood, who have combined for almost 1,500 yards rushing and 8 scores. However, the man who has really made this all come together is Sophomore QB Everette Golson. He has proven to be a the driving force behind the offensive attack for Notre Dame, by putting up some impressive numbers: 1918 passing yards, 258 rushing yards, and 16 total touchdowns. Yes folks, this is a very high powered offense that definitely has the ability to score at will.
Can USC Break Out of Its Funk?
The season is in a bit of a tailspin for the Trojans. They started the season ranked #2 in the country in the pre-season polls and they were considered contenders for the national title. Unfortunately, things haven’t worked out for them too well, as they have lost three of their last four games, including a 38-28 loss to hated rival UCLA. In that game, they lost their star QB Matt Barkley for the up and coming game against the Irish when he went down with a freak shoulder injury at the end of the game against the Bruins. Can somebody just answer me this? How the hell is Lane Kiffin still the head coach at USC? I have not seen anything positive come out of Southern Cal since he has been there, and he is finishing up what is for sure another disappointing season for the Trojans. Trust me, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Trojans get placed on some sort of NCAA sanction for recruiting violations. That always seems to happen when Kiffin is at the helm. Just ask Tennessee!
Anywho, back to USC football… Matt Barkey was one of the shining stars on this Trojans offense (who have collapsed as of late). Barkley has put up some impressive numbers, throwing for 3,200 yards passing and 36 TDs. His favorite target is WR Marqise Lee, who has caught 107 of those balls for over 1600 yards and 14 TDs. Lee is, for sure, a stellar wideout and will be a big problem for the Irish. I am sure that Norte Dame has his name circled and underlined with big bold red marker all over it. The QB who is slated to take over for Barkley, who as mentioned before is out with a shoulder injury is Freshman QB Max Wittek. Wittek will get his first career start Saturday and, as you are aware, he has quite a daunting task in front of him. Luckily, he is surrounded by a very talented group of running backs and receivers that should help bail him out a little bit. Unfortunately for Wittek though, his inexperience as a starter might come back to haunt him as he goes up against one of the best defenses in the country. If USC has any chance of throwing a big old monkey wrench into the BCS national title game, it will rest on the shoulders their wideouts, their running game, and also the ability for the Trojans D to limit their mistakes against the Irish offense.
Who Will Hoist the Jeweled Shillelagh In 2012?
After carefully looking at both schools, I do feel that USC has a very good chance of playing spoiler at home against the Irish, especially with all of the weapons that they have on offense. That being said however, Southern Cal is banged up, playing an inexperienced QB and you can’t overlook Notre Dame’s defense. They are way better than the Trojans’ defense this season. The phrase “defense wins championships” goes a long way here and, well, Brian Kelly has done a great job at recruiting some good talent for the Irish D, not to mention the offense too. They are just too good for the Trojans to get by. Norte Dame wins and will be playing for a national title in January.
Featured image courtesy of: Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
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