Notre Dame was revealed as this week’s Sports Illustrated cover subject on the Tuesday morning “Dan Patrick Show.” An artist’s rendering of the famed golden helmet reflecting Touchdown Jesus celebrates the sole (bowl eligible) unbeaten in college football.
An SI cover jinx is one of the lazier angles trotted out, especially at this time of year. Still, one can understand if the honor has Irish fans scrambling for a four-leaf clover to counteract the bad mojo. Just last week, BCS No. 1 Kansas State was splashed across the Sports Illustrated cover, and the Wildcats suffered a perplexing 52-24 loss to the nation’s worst scoring defense.
Notre Dame already heads into the Los Angeles Coliseum with a supernatural air of doubt. It’s unlikely to weight on any of the players’ minds, but many remember the last time Notre Dame was in this position. Win on the final week, play for the championship. Simple equation.
Simple in theory, anyway. More difficult in practice, as the 1993 Fighting Irish discovered at Boston College. The similarities are obvious.
Key factors far more meaningful to on-field performance in 2012 favor the Fighting Irish. Most notable is the absence of USC quarterback Matt Barkley. The once-Heisman favorite suffered a shoulder injury late in the Trojans’ loss to crosstown rival UCLA, leaving the USC offense in the hands of redshirt freshman Max Wittek.
In general, USC’s offense is a favorable match-up for the stout Notre Dame defense. Despite posting 51 against Oregon earlier this month, the play calling of Lane Kiffin has perplexed pundits and Trojan fans alike and hindered USC’s explosive side more than any defense.
Any defense than Stanford’s, that is, which is another point favoring the Fighting Irish.
The tenacious style the Cardinal front seven employs mirrors that of Notre Dame. Heisman Trophy candidate Marqise Lee can change the course of a game with his explosive quickness and ability to find the narrowest of seams in coverage, a trait that would seemingly give USC an edge against an Irish secondary that has grown through trial-by-fire.
However, Stanford was able to neutralize Lee’s game-changing ability with an aggressive blitz of Barkley. The pocket regularly collapsed on Barkley before he could find his No. 1 weapon, frustrating the senior quarterback all game long.
A similar style keyed from arguably the best defensive line in the nation, featuring Louis Nix and Stephon Tuitt, would give a freshman like Wittek almost no hope.
Either spurred on to mask trepidition of facing such a formidable task, or by foolhearty bravado, Wittek gave the UND defense locker room material when he assured Trojan victory on ESPN LA 710.
As if the Irish motivation needed motivation beyond beating its most hated rival, ending the regular season undefeated for the first time since 1988 and reaching its first BCS championship game, Wittek presented it.
Logic says Notre Dame should win on Saturday. But when has logic every cared what happens on Saturdays? When magazine covers seem to hold mystic power, the answer is never.