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USC-Notre Dame: Just another game. Sure it is

Reporting from South Bend, Ind. -- USC faces Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind., on Saturday. The rivalry has a long history, and the Fighting Irish will be flashing a little something extra this time around – gold-flaked helmets, 80,000 ‘rally towels,’ maybe a twist on the uniform. But, Coach Brian Kelly insists, it’s not like they planned anything special.

It’s only a coincidence, Notre Dame Coach Brian Kelly insists.

Nothing special.

No extra planning was involved.

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Heck, everything just kind of came together this way.

Notre Dame is playing USC on Saturday in the Fighting Irish’s first night home game since 1990.

And it’s doing so with an extra week to prepare, after an open date.

Notre Dame also will roll out new HD-friendly gold-flaked helmets — making the Irish true golden domers — and 80,000 “rally towels” will be distributed to fans as they enter Notre Dame Stadium.

There also is speculation that Notre Dame might don its green jerseys, or a variation of its regular uniforms, to further mark the occasion.

“We hadn’t sat down and said, ‘Let’s get all this for the USC game,’ ” Kelly said. “It’s just been more of a coincidence.”

Oh, OK.

Perhaps it has nothing to do with Notre Dame rightly feeling that it can regain control of the series after ending an eight-game losing streak last season.

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Or that it can make that statement in prime time on NBC.

The Irish have not defeated USC in South Bend since 2001.

But this could be the year, especially if USC (5-1) is unable to put together a complete game, or something approaching it.

Notre Dame, a winner in its last four games after losing its first two, is a nine-point favorite.

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USC Coach Lane Kiffin said this week that an unranked Irish team that lost its opener at home to South Florida “has no weakness.”

Really?

As important as this game is to Notre Dame, it’s also huge for Kiffin, who described last year’s defeat as the worst of his head-coaching career. He can keep at least a few critics at bay by defeating Notre Dame and UCLA.

This is the 10th time overall and second year in a row that the teams have met when neither is ranked.

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USC lost last season, 20-16, but the Trojans were playing without injured quarterback Matt Barkley. USC still might have won had a wide-open Ronald Johnson not dropped a sure touchdown pass from backup quarterback Mitch Mustain.

Barkley is 1-0 at Notre Dame.

Two years ago, he passed for 380 yards and two touchdowns as USC built a 20-point fourth-quarter lead before barely hanging on for a 34-27 victory.

It was the Trojans’ fourth consecutive win in South Bend, their longest road winning streak in a series that dates to 1926.

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In 2003, Matt Leinart passed for four touchdowns and freshman Reggie Bush scored on a long run as the Trojans routed the Irish, 45-14, for only their second victory at Notre Dame Stadium in 20 years.

Two years later, the rivals played one of the most memorable games in college football history. Leinart’s fourth-and-nine pass to receiver Dwayne Jarrett set up the now infamous “Bush Push,” in which Leinart got a shove from Bush and scored on a quarterback sneak that gave USC a 34-31 victory.

In 2007, Mark Sanchez played in place of injured John David Booty and passed for four touchdowns in a 38-0 rout. The Trojans forced three turnovers and got seven sacks while handing the Irish their most lopsided home loss since 1956.

This time, Notre Dame quarterback Tommy Rees will try to push the Irish past the Trojans for the second year in a row.

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Last season, in an uneven performance, Rees had three passes intercepted and lost a fumble. But he also directed a fourth-quarter drive that gave the Irish the lead.

“The USC game obviously wasn’t one of my better games,” the sophomore said this week, adding, “I wouldn’t be surprised if they do a lot of the same stuff.”

Rees will rely on standout receiver Michael Floyd and a rushing attack that features former Oxnard Santa Clara High standout Cierre Wood.

Barkley is trying to bounce back from an up-and-down performance last week in a victory over California. Barkley and star receiver Robert Woods aim to regain the timing that made them one of college football’s most potent combinations during the first half of the season.

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With unbeaten Stanford visiting the Coliseum next week and Washington and Oregon also looming on the Trojans’ schedule, Saturday’s game would be a good time to start.

gary.klein@latimes.com

twitter.com/latimesklein


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