By DAVID VANTRESS
THE GOSHEN NEWS
SOUTH BEND —
Over the years, there have been some memorable games in the USC-Notre Dame series.
The two storied schools share a legacy of excellence, with 22 national championships and 13 Heisman Trophy winners between them.
This year’s game, at first glance, appears to lack the luster it may have had in previous seasons: Both teams are 4-2 and neither is ranked.
But Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly is hoping his Irish can get a big home victory in a night game and use that as a springboard to a strong finish. The Irish and Trojans meet tonight at 7:30 p.m. at Notre Dame Stadium.
Kelly last season said the series has not been a great rivalry of late, because the Irish had not won enough.
That’s starting to change with two victories by Notre Dame in the past three meetings, Kelly said.
“It’s a great rivalry game. Our guys certainly recognize it as our rivalry game, and it should be just a great football game.,” Kelly said.
Kelly said he hopes in the future, both teams will be competing for BCS bowl berths and playing “on equal footing.”
“I think both programs are looking forward to those days where it’s a great matchup year in and year out,” he said.
The Irish have not beaten USC at Notre Dame Stadium since 2001. When that fact was pointed out to Kelly earlier this week, he said he was not aware of it.
And USC interim coach Ed Orgeron said he doesn’t want his team focusing on that fact, either.
“There’s been a lot put on this team,” Orgeron said.
The Trojans, Orgeron added, are focusing on the game being Game 2 of a new season after the firing of Lane Kiffin.
If Orgeron’s Trojans can beat the Irish tonight, he would join John Robinson and Paul Hackett as the only USC coaches to beat Notre Dame in their first season.
The USC defense has struggled in recent weeks, especially in a 62-41 loss to Arizona State that led to Kiffin’s ouster.
In the past two games, opponents have scored 93 points, rushed for 406 yards, passed for 714 yards and have scored on nine of 10 trips inside the end zone, including six touchdowns.
Orgeron said the problems are fixable.
“We have not been playing the quarterback very well,” Orgeron said. “Spread teams are giving us problems.”
Orgeron has been pleased with the progress of redshirt sophomore quarterback Cody Kessler.
“Cody’s growing into his position and becoming a leader,” Orgeron said.
Kessler has completed 81-of-134 passes for 1,129 yards and eight TDs with four interceptions so far in 2013.
Game-time temperatures are expected to be in the mid-40s, and USC is 9-7 in cold-weather games over its history.
The field at Notre Dame Stadium has been resodded again — the latest turf replacement coming after the Oklahoma game.
Kelly said he hasn’t seen the field, but has heard good reports. “We’re hopeful. We expect good results,” he said. “There is a bit of uncertainty when you don’t, obviously, know what to expect.”
The meeting between the Irish and Trojans is the 85th in series history. Notre Dame holds a 44-35-5 overall edge in the series overall, including 23-14-1 at Notre Dame Stadium ... The first game in the series was in 1926, when legendary Irish coach Knute Rockne became the first Midwestern coach to take a team to the West Coast. Notre Dame won that game, 13-12 and the two teams have played every year since except for 1943-45, when World War II travel restrictions caused a three-year hiatus ... Notre Dame is 62-17-2 after a bye week (.788) since 1900. Kelly is 13-2 coming off a bye week... Notre Dame’s 44 wins are the most by any Trojan opponent. California is second with 30.