Notre Dame better cover its bases to avoid another upset loss at USC

The Fighting Irish need only to beat the sliding Trojans to reach the national title game. But history has shown that Irish dreams have often been shattered at the Coliseum. And then there's the matter of the Sports Illustrated cover jinx.

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Let's see if I've got this straight or crooked: Notre Dame needs one win to get to the national title game and Sports Illustrated puts the Irish on this week's cover?

I don't believe in genies or goblins, but the SI cover jinx is real. If you don't believe it do an archives search to last week, when Kansas State's first-ever week at No. 1 in the Bowl Championship Series standings was harpooned by an editorial decision in New York.

Kansas State got its cover blown by unranked Baylor, the worst-ranked defense since Grenada.

Why can't Sports Illustrated put a Southeastern Conference school on the cover?

Sometimes you just have to scratch your helmet and ask: How come the team that is supposed to win so often doesn't?

Notre Dame (11-0) heads west to play depleted USC with a national title bid at stake. The Trojans are reeling with a 7-4 record and starting a quarterback still whistling Mater Dei High's fight song.

This is South Bend's game to lose but you'd be amazed how many times it happens. I still can't believe West Virginia, with a national title berth at stake in 2007, lost at home to Pittsburgh.

There is no way, to this day, to satisfactorily comprehend UCLA's 13-9 win over USC in 2006 and Stanford's win over USC in 2007.

Notre Dame's own game notes this week reveal that Irish national title hopes have been derailed seven times by USC at the Coliseumseven!

In 1964, the Irish were No. 1 and 11-point favorites against unranked USC (6-3) and raced to an early 17-0 lead. USC rallied to win, 20-17, on Craig Fertig's scoring pass to Rod Sherman with 1 minute 33 seconds left.

The 1970 Notre Dame team was 9-0 and No. 4, and had Heisman Trophy candidate Joe Theismann, who threw for 526 yards against USC in a … 38-28 loss.

In 1980, the Irish were 9-0-1 and headed for the Sugar Bowl against Georgia. USC was playing without Marcus Allen, out with an injury. The Trojans won, 20-3.

USC also helped dash Notre Dame's plans at the Coliseum in 1938, 1948, 1974 and 2006.

It's worked the other way, too. Notre Dame wrecked USC's parade in 1947, 1952 and, of course, 1988.

Of course, USC is playing an untested quarterback, which is a whole different column. But you could ask USC fans about UCLA's untested Norm Dow back in 1966.

Notre Dame is on the cover of SI and USC hasn't lost to UCLA and Notre Dame in the same season since 1995. Maybe this is why coaches of top-ranked teams are always so moody and fidgety.

Stop me if you've heard this before (but you haven't):

•The Pac-12 Conference title game will be hosted Nov. 30 by Stanford if it beats UCLA, Oregon if defeats Oregon State and UCLA defeats Stanford, or UCLA if it beats Stanford and Oregon State beats Oregon.

Order your tickets now, but don't ask me how or where.

•There's a chance this year's BCS title game could match teams that didn't win their own division of their conference.

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