There’s a lot to say about this Saturday’s Notre Dame-USC game, and we’re going to get to a lot of the different storylines before the week is done. However, we also have to look back at the history of this storied series, especially in a year when Notre Dame returns to Los Angeles for the first time since 2018. The 2020 game scheduled for the Coliseum was wiped out by the pandemic.
Notre Dame Fighting Irish Wire editor Nick Shepkowski is a great collaborator. He has been working with us all week to give you lots of great content on ND-SC from a Notre Dame perspective. He joined us to relive favorite Notre Dame-USC memories and to provide a lot of historical facts you might not have known about this rivalry:
FAVORITE NON-2005 USC-NOTRE DAME GAME
Trojans Wire: 1978
Nick Shepkowski, Fighting Irish Wire: 1999
GREATEST NOTRE DAME WIN IN THE SERIES
Trojans Wire: 1977
Nick Shepkowski: 1977
GREATEST USC WIN IN THE SERIES
No one needs to ask about this one. (It’s 2005.)
MOST IMPORTANT USC-ND GAME OTHER THAN THE FIRST ONE IN 1926
Trojans Wire: 1964
Nick Shepkowski: 1986 or 2002
GREATEST NOTRE DAME BOWL WIN
Trojans Wire: 1973 Sugar Bowl vs Alabama (Tim Clements to Robin Weber pass)
Shepkowski: Agreed. 1973 Sugar. For conversation sake, add the 1978 Cotton Bowl (1977 season). 38-10 dominance of Texas moves Irish from 5 to 1 on New Year’s Day.
GREATEST USC BOWL WIN
Trojans Wire: 1975 Rose (Shelton Diggs 2-point reception to beat Ohio State for the national title)
Shepkowski: 2005 Orange vs. OU
GREATEST NOTRE DAME TEAM OF ALL TIME
We agree: 1947.
Trojans Wire: This team allowed under 6 points per game all season and averaged over 32.
Shepkowski: This team allowed more than 7 points in a game just once all year.
GREATEST USC TEAM OF ALL TIME
Trojans Wire: 1972
FAVORITE ND PLAYER, PRE-1970
Trojans Wire: Gus Dorais
Shepkowski: Heisman Trophy winner and World War II Naval officer Johnny Lujack.
FAVORITE USC PLAYER, PRE-1970
Trojans Wire: Ron Mix
Shepkowski: Frank Gifford
FAVORITE ND PLAYER, 1971-1990
Trojans Wire: Chris Zorich
Shepkowski: So many … Rocket Ismail, though.
FAVORITE USC PLAYER, 1971-1990
TW: Charles White
Shepkowski: Junior Seau
FAVORITE ND PLAYER, 1991-2005
TW and Shepkowski share Jerome Bettis.
FAVORITE USC PLAYER, 1991-2005
TW: Reggie Bush
Shepkowski: Troy Polamalu
FAVORITE ND PLAYER, 2006-PRESENT
TW: Quenton Nelson
Shepkowski: Manti Te’o
FAVORITE USC PLAYER, 2006-PRESENT
TW: Sam Darnold
Shepkowski: Michael Pittman
OVERLOOKED NOTRE DAME-USC RIVALRY GAME
OVERLOOKED ND-SC RIVALRY MOMENT IN AN IRISH WIN
TW: Angelo Bertelli knocking down a USC 2-point pass in a 20-18 Irish win in 1941.
Shepkowski: Two far below average teams by program standards met in 1999 on a rainy, miserable Midwest afternoon in South Bend. Notre Dame had their biggest comeback in Notre Dame Stadium history. An exciting point in an otherwise forgettable year for both squads.
OVERLOOKED ND-SC MOMENT IN A TROJAN WIN
TW: Frank Jordan’s kick in 1978
Shepkowski: 1938 when USC ended Notre Dame’s undefeated season and beat Elmer Layden for the first time.
NOTRE DAME'S 3 GREATEST COACHES IN ORDER
1 – Frank Leahy
2 – Knute Rockne
3 – Ara Parseghian
1 – Rockne
2 – Leahy
3 – Parseghian
USC'S 3 GREATEST HEAD COACHES IN ORDER
1 – John McKay
2 – Howard Jones
3 – Pete Carroll
1 – Jones
2 – McKay
3 – Carroll
(I’m a sap for the construction of college football in the early days, what can I say?)
FUN NOTRE DAME FOOTBALL FACT WITH A USC TWIST
TW: Pete Carroll helped Notre Dame win the 1977 national title (as an assistant to future ND coach Lou Holtz on the 1977 Arkansas team which beat No. 2 Oklahoma in the 1978 Orange Bowl).
Shepkowski: If not for USC putting in the work and essentially recruiting Knute Rockne to come west to play them every other year, Notre Dame’s main rival could very well instead be Nebraska, who the the Irish played each season from 1915-1925. That is, until USC took their place annually.
FUN USC FOOTBALL FACT WITH A NOTRE DAME TWIST
TW: John Robinson owns victories over Notre Dame 20 years apart, in 1976 and 1996, the largest gap between two wins for a single coach in the history of the series.
Shepkowski: Knute Rockne was set to take the USC job after leading Notre Dame to the 1924 title. When Notre Dame stood strong and didn’t let him out of his contract, he referred USC to Howard Jones, who Rockne knew from coaching Notre Dame against Iowa. From there the seeds for college football’s finest rivalry were planted.
FAVORITE NOTRE DAME HEISMAN TROPHY WINNER
TW: Tim Brown
Shepkowski: John Huarte. One of the most unlikely winners of the award in its entire history.
FAVORITE USC HEISMAN TROPHY WINNER
TW: Charles White
Shepkowski: Reggie Bush. Now do the right thing and give him his trophy back.
DO YOU WISH ND WORE GREEN JERSEYS AND USC CARDINAL HOME JERSEYS EVERY YEAR?
Trojans Wire: YES. YES. YES.
Shepkowski: No. USC can wear cardinal or white, but to honor this rivalry’s rich history have Notre Dame annually wear the green jerseys they did in 1977.