Highlights of the week ahead in sports, both here and afar:
THIS WEEK’S BEST BET
COLLEGE FOOTBALL: USC vs. Notre Dame, Coliseum, 5 p.m., Channel 7; UCLA vs. Stanford, Rose Bowl, 3:30 p.m., Channel 11:
Brand protection is what’s really at stake for the 84th edition of the USC-Notre Dame rivalry. The Trojans’ image in the community has taken a shot following Saturday’s humbling loss to UCLA in the Rose Bowl where Matt Barkley left with his right arm in a sling. The Trojans’ third loss in four games is a free-fall from the No. 1 spot they had in the AP poll when the season started. That’s the spot where Notre Dame currently sits, thanks to an 11-0 record coming into this game, leading the BCS standings for the first time since the thing was created in 1998.
USC has previously spoiled Notre Dame’s undefeated chances in the final game of the season in 1938, ’64, ’70 and ’80. But No. 1 Notre Dame’s 27-10 win over the No. 2 Trojans paved the way to the Irish’s last championship, after a win over West Virginia in the Fiesta Bowl.
Barkley has already been ruled out for this one because of his shoulder injury, but the great subplot is the evolution of Irish senior linebacker Manti Te’o, who was USC bound coming out of high school until he changed his mind and picked the Irish. Now, he’ll play his final regular-season game at the Coliseum. “There is no next week,” Te’o said after the Irish beat Wake Forest on Saturday. “It’s USC. There is no game after that. If we take care of USC, we’ll be fine. The USC-Notre Dame game is always a battle. So we understand that and we’re going to prepare the way we know how.” Irish coach Brian Kelly said he thought Te’o ”should win the Heisman Trophy, provided we continue to win.” USC has won nine of the last 10 meetings, but the ’05 “Bush Push” victory had to be vacated. The last time Notre Dame came to the Coliseum ranked in the Top 10 was at No. 6 in 2006, but the No. 2 Trojans won, 44-24.
Meanwhile, across town, UCLABruins.com had a new home page posted Sunday, as well as a strange situation – it could be playing Stanford twice in six days. Bruins freshman quarterback Brett Hundley admitted that “when the season started, obviously nobody thought we were going to do what we’re doing now.” That was after he completed 22 of 30 passes in a 10-point win over USC to clinch the Pac-12 South Division title. Not many thought the Cardinal would be in the driver’s seat to win the Pac-12 North Division at this point, either. If they are to play each other in Palo Alto on Nov. 30 for the Pac-12 championship, it likely means the Cardinal has to win this meeting – unless Oregon loses to Oregon State. If Oregon wins and UCLA beats Stanford, the Ducks would host the Bruins. If there’s a three-way tie for the North title (involving OSU), Stanford would advance to the conference title game played at UCLA, for the right to go to the Jan. 1 Rose Bowl. Make sense?
THE BEST OF THE REST ….