The Irish and Trojans flipped places from where they began the 2012 season; Notre Dame is the team with the Heisman candidate, playing its last regular season game for a berth in the National Championship game, not preseason top-ranked USC.
Heading into the Notre Dame vs. USC game on Nov. 24, it's not surprising the script is written as a potential Heisman Trophy candidate playing to lead his top-ranked team to a national championship game while the opponent looks for its eighth win of the season.
Not many really thought the national championship contender would be Notre Dame, and the Heisman Trophy candidate would have been Manti Te'o. It's an even bigger stretch to suggest the Trojans - ranked No. 1 in preseason polls - would be the team playing for its eighth win, after failing to win even one big game this season.
The Trojans aren't used to playing the role of spoiler in their yearly game against Notre Dame, but that's what Saturday's game is - one last test for the Irish to prove their national title merit. And they'll have to do it at the Coliseum in Los Angeles, where the Trojans are 5-1 this year.
There have been plenty of tests before this one. They executed a dramatic come-from-behind win over Pitt on Nov. 3, and outlasted a tough Michigan team on Sept. 22. The Irish have won them all, while the Trojans (7-4) have stumbled through a disappointing season in which they've failed to defeat a ranked team.
USC is the only team standing in Notre Dame's way of a national championship game appearance - their first since the BCS system was introduced in 1998. A win today means they'll play in the Discover BCS National Championship game Monday, Jan. 7 in Miami.
Kickoff for Notre Dame at USC is 7 p.m. CT Saturday.