The 'Max' Factor: A Notre Dame-USC Preview

By Tom O'Toole

As the Notre Dame game time approaches, and the “line” falls from seven to six to five in favor of the Irish, it appears that Vegas is as nervous about this game as I am. But when it’s 11-0 Notre Dame vs. 7-4 USC, how can this be?

Unlike myself, Las Vegas doesn’t take history into consideration, so games like the 1964 contest when the #1, undefeated Irish, traveled to Southern California to take on the unranked Trojans, only to lose 20-17, doesn’t alter the spread a wit, or a (Max) Wittek as the case may be. So what is the problem?

On offense, the balanced but not-so-explosive Irish have been averaging a shade over 27 points a game, and there’s no reason to believe they will score much fewer—or much more—against an athletic-but-average USC “D.” So it all comes down to whether the Trojans can score more than that against Notre Dame…

On the surface, it looks like no contest. The Irish give up some yards but few big plays, and are tied for the best in the country for scoring defense. To have a chance, the Irish force their opponents to maintain a disciplined dink and dunk approach all the way down the field, and the Trojans, by averaging over eight-and-a-half penalties a game, are second to last in the FBS in this type of discipline.

Furthermore, although Curtis McNeal was able to run over the Irish last season, the Notre Dame run defense is now ranked fifth in the country, so the Trojans must throw to have any chance tonight.

And normally, USC throwing is not such a bad thing, for the Trojans not only still have wide receiver Robert Woods, who burned the Irish with 12 catches last season, but the vastly-improved Marqise Lee, the nation’s leader in both yardage (1,605) and catches (107). But with stellar starter Matt Barkley benched by injury, who will get them the ball?

Enter Max Wittek. The fact that this redshirt freshman is making his first start against the #1 ranked Irish doesn’t phase him a bit, as he predicted victory earlier this week. Meanwhile, his legend grows quickly, as the coaches rave that Wittek is magnificent in practice, while LA Times writer Bill Plaschke seconds Wittek’s winning prediction based on his 19 out of 20 completions during, of all things, a fundraising dinner.

In real life games, Wittek has completed eight of nine passes as Barkley’s back-up.

But those have come during mop-up time, and the only mop-up Manti Te’o and friends have allowed this year is when trainers are mopping up their opponents’ blood from the turf. Still, if ever there was a throw-caution-to-the-wind character in college football, it’s young Wittek, so the Irish would do well to put this nothing-to-lose and everything-to-win redshirt on the ground early.

Prediction: As long as USC continues to recruit athletes who are professional prospects but academic suspects, they will continue to compete—and, later, get caught. They always are home to a quarterback with a golden arm and some alumnus with a golden touch, while Notre Dame humbly counters with the Lady on the Golden Dome. Wittek will make some plays, but not enough to derail another legendary Notre Dame season.

Final score: Notre Dame 27, USC 24.

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