After eight straight losses, most of the lopsided variety, it would take even the most optimistic Notre Dame fan to suggest that the tide is turning already in the USC rivalry – even with the Trojans heading into the major sanctions placed on them by the NCAA in June.
ESPN, however makes a case for the tide turning in Notre Dame’s favor in its longest storied rivalry.
First, ESPN makes the case for the arrow pointing upward for Notre Dame.
So among all the sky-high demands placed on Kelly — compete for a national championship, embrace the school’s traditions and sprawling alumni base, recruit like Alabama and graduate like Duke — he must stop the bleeding against USC.
Tough job. But you have to like Kelly’s chances.
Just ask Texas coach Mack Brown. Once, when Brown was coaching in the Hula Bowl, he had an excitable coach on his staff from Grand Valley State. Brown put this Brian Kelly guy in charge of play calling for the bowl game.
“He was so excited, so pumped,” Brown recalled. “I didn’t even know where Grand Valley State was until I met him.”
Today, after watching Kelly burn a trail of success through Division II, the Mid-American Conference and the Big East, Brown is a believer.
“He’s won everywhere he’s been, so there’s no reason to think he can’t win,” Brown said. “I think he’s a great choice [for Notre Dame].”
Then they make the case for USC’s arrow pointing down.
In his head-coaching career, Kiffin seemingly hasn’t gone longer than 15 minutes without infuriating someone, committing a secondary NCAA violation or accusing another school of committing a violation. We’ll see how well the Kiffin charm works on a new university president and athletic director who seem quite serious about restoring USC’s image.
Pull it all together and you can understand why, in terms of program trajectory, optimism is high regarding the Irish and skepticism is high for the Trojans. Notre Dame has a lot of catching up to do, but the opportunity to close the gap on its biggest rival is clear and present.
A lot of what ESPN says does make sense, but that still might not be enough to make a difference this year. Even with last year’s narrow defeat to USC, Notre Dame still has a lot of ground to make up in the rivalry. USC took a hit in the depth department with the transfers that ensued after the sanctions were handed down, but they will still have a more talented starting lineup this fall. Kiffin and his staff will, however, still have to deal with the problem of motivating a team that likely will not have a chance to play in a bowl game this fall (depending on the outcome of their appeal of the sanctions).
Until Notre Dame starts winning the games its supposed to win debating whether or not the USC rivalry is starting to turn back in Notre Dame’s favor is still very premature, but that’s ESPN for you. If there is one thing to take from this piece from the World Wide Leader, it’s that there is at least a lot of optimism and faith in Brian Kelly from the mainstream media.