The rivalry between Notre Dame and USC dates to 1926, but rarely has one of their matchups offered more intrigue than this Saturday's showdown at the Coliseum. Yes, the teams are battling for a spot opposite Ohio State in the national title game (though the Irish will have a hard time overtaking Michigan due to their 47--21 loss to the Wolverines on Sept. 16), but the buildup for this game began on Oct. 15, 2005, when Notre Dame, under first-year coach Charlie Weis, came within a last-second Matt Leinart touchdown sneak of knocking off Pete Carroll's top-ranked Trojans. The Irish have been looking for revenge ever since, and USC would love nothing more than to humble Weis, regarded as a coaching "genius" even before he almost pulled off the upset. You won't find two coaches more determined to outsmart each other than the offensive-minded Weis and defensive schemer Carroll. Following his team's 41--9 win over Army last Saturday, Weis said that he'd "watched every offensive and defensive play" of USC's season. That was before the Trojans' 23--9 victory over Cal that night, in which USC's resurgent defense harassed Bears quarterback Nate Longshore. Carroll is undoubtedly plotting to put similar pressure on Notre Dame star Brady Quinn (above). If Carroll succeeds, this game might not be as close as last year's, because the Irish's overmatched secondary isn't likely to slow Trojans wideouts Dwayne Jarrett and Steve Smith.
BY THE NUMBERS
With 64 bowl berths available for the 119 Division I-A teams, there are bound to be some suspect participants. This year, Iowa is at the top of the list. Despite finishing 2--6 in the Big Ten, the Hawkeyes (6--6) are guaranteed a berth in the Alamo or Insight bowls because the conference has seven eligible teams and seven partner bowls. Minnesota, meanwhile, will go bowling despite earning five of its six wins against teams with a combined record of 22--37. The other victory came against I-AA North Dakota State, which the Golden Gophers edged 10--9.
THREE AND OUT
1 After watching the Ohio State--Michigan shootout, you have to admire Penn State's defense. The Nittany Lions (8--4) struggled on offense all year, but their D held the Buckeyes to two TDs on offense and 253 yards, Michigan to 17 points and 312 yards.
2 Alabama coach Mike Shula is facing pressure to overhaul his staff. The Tide, which has lost five straight to rival Auburn, is 6--6 this year and 26--23 in four seasons under Shula (right), who could be on the chopping block next year if 'Bama struggles again.
3 For all of Greg Schiano's rebuilding efforts at Rutgers, he's still missing one critical piece: a reliable QB. Sophomore Mike Teel threw four interceptions in the Scarlet Knights' first loss of the season at Cincinnati, raising his two-year total to 23.
SIMON BRUTY (QUINN)
BUTCH DILL/AP (SHULA)