Notre Dame played its way back into the national championship picture by demolishing USC 49-14 Saturday night.
Make no mistake about it: this was a huge win for the No. 13 Fighting Irish. Sure, the No. 11 Trojans already had one loss heading into this contest, but they also defeated Stanford earlier in the season. After watching USC’s offense execute flawlessly in the second half against Utah last week, the Trojans looked like the team to beat in the Pac-12.
While USC could still end up winning its conference, Notre Dame ensured that the Trojans would not earn a spot in the College Football Playoff. The Irish jumped on USC early and often Saturday, racing out to a 28-0 lead. The Trojans would score twice in the second half to keep things interesting, but Notre Dame answered both times — including an 84-yard run by Josh Adams that ended any hopes of a USC comeback.
Although the margin of victory speaks for itself, it’s hard not to be impressed with how well Notre Dame played in this contest. The Fighting Irish front seven dominated the line of scrimmage all night long, limiting the Trojans to just 76 yards on the ground, while recording five sacks. The Notre Dame rushing attack was equally impressive, racking up 377 yards against a USC defense that entered Saturday night’s action allowing just 4.12 yards per carry.
Exactly how awesome is that rushing number? Consider this: Notre Dame’s total output was more than double the total that Stanford – led by Heisman Trophy candidate Bryce Love – could muster against the Trojan D.
It’s tough to argue with those results.
So what does this victory mean for the Irish in the grand scheme of things?
Quite frankly, it puts them back into the national championship picture. Yes, the loss to Georgia in week 2 still stings. However, Notre Dame still has a number of quality opponents remaining, including NC State, Miami, and Stanford. If — and it’s a big if –the Irish were to win those contests, they would have a resume that’s as impressive as anyone else in the country. Given that the Selection Committee included a team in the field last season that didn’t win a conference championship, it’s tough to envision any scenario in which Notre Dame would miss the College Football Playoff if it runs the table.