By all rights, Notre Dame should be supremely confident Saturday at USC, facing a reeling, dejected team with three losses in its last four and nothing in particular at stake, which also happens to be trotting out a freshman quarterback in his first career start against the No. 1 scoring defense in the nation. The Fighting Irish are no strangers to big road wins, having already notched double-digit upsets at Michigan State in September and Oklahoma in October, vaulting forward in the national pecking order on both occasions. With last week's loss at UCLA, the Trojans are well on their way to becoming the first preseason favorite to finish outside of the polls altogether in nearly 50 years. Everything we know about these two teams right now says Notre Dame will beat the Trojans, punch its ticket to the BCS Championship Game on January 7 and bury two decades of mediocrity and angst.
By this point, though, everything we know about the stretch run in the BCS standings tells us we really know nothing. Two weeks in a row, the No. 1 team in the standings has gone down at the hands of a double-digit underdog; last week, the No. 2 team, Oregon, accompanied top-ranked Kansas State on its way down. The exact same scenario unfolded in 2011, when Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Oregon watched their championship hopes go up in smoke at the hands of double-digit underdogs in a span of 24 hours. The Fighting Irish themselves narrowly avoided joining the victim list themselves on November 3, when they rallied from a 14-point fourth quarter deficit and survived a triple-overtime scare against a 16.5-point dog, Pittsburgh. With that track record, maybe it's a good omen that they're only favored this weekend by 5.5.