There’s more than a place in this year’s BCS Championship on the line at the LA Coliseum this weekend. This is rivalry weekend. There’s pride on the line.
Make no mistake about it, USC would love nothing more than to upset bitter rivals Notre Dame on Saturday night and knock the Fighting Irish out of the championship picture, a victory that would not just make up for a disappointing season, but also might save head coach Lane Kiffin’s job.
Kiffin and his players came into the season as the No. 1 team in the country with Heisman favorite Matt Barkley at quarterback, while the Irish were unranked. Ironically, it’s the Irish who are now No. 1 and feature one of the Heisman frontrunners in linebacker Manti T’eo, while the Trojans have slipped out of the top-25.
USC (7-4) will also have to do without Barkley for Saturday’s game after the senior injured his shoulder in last weekend’s loss to crosstown rivals UCLA.
The Irish, meanwhile, are 11-0 for the first time since 1989 and are back at the pinnacle of college football for the first time in 19 years. The big question for them, however, is how they will handle the pressure of being top dogs, something that hasn’t worked out well for the No. 1 team recently, with Alabama and Kansas State falling on two consecutive Saturdays.
The good news for the Irish is that in the 14 years of the BCS, 12 of the teams ranked No. 1 in the penultimate weekend of the season have gone on to play in the national championship game.
The Irish will go into Saturday’s primetime showdown as favorites to knock off a USC team that has failed to show up for big games this season, but considering the nature of this rivalry — arguably the biggest in all of college football — an upset by the Trojans is still a strong possibility, and if that happens the BCS picture could be thrown into mayhem heading into the final week of the season.
In other big matchups this weekend, No. 2 Alabama (10-1) and No. 3 Georgia (10-1) will try to get past rivals Auburn (3-8) and Georgia Tech (6-5), respectively.
Both are heavy favorites to win and if they do it will set up a SEC Championship showdown between the two next weekend, with the winner of that game likely advancing to the BCS Championship.
One of the most interesting games of the weekend is No. 4 Florida (10-1) at No. 10 Florida State (10-1), with the winner retaining an outside shot at a place in the national championship, providing USC beats Notre Dame.
The Gators have barely won at times this season, but have perhaps the best resume of any national contender, and a win on Saturday would leave them with victories over four of the current top-12. The Seminoles, meanwhile, have dominated weaker opposition in the ACC and will be looking for a marquee win over a top-four team to boost their status in the computer and human polls and potentially catapult them into a national title showdown.
On the West Coast, No. 5 Oregon (10-1) will travel to Corvallis for the civil war showdown with No. 15 Oregon State (8-2). The Ducks retain an outside shot at making the BCS Championship despite last weekend’s home loss to No. 8 Stanford (9-2), but will need USC to beat Notre Dame and for No. 17 UCLA (9-2) to beat Stanford this weekend. If that happens, Oregon will play UCLA in next Saturday’s PAC-12 Championship and could sneak its way back into the top two with a couple of impressive late wins.
If, however, Stanford beats UCLA, those two teams would meet again next weekend for the PAC-12 title.