The 92-year-old rivalry between USC and Notre Dame ranks among the most stories in college football history. The 2018 edition finds the two blue-blood programs on much different sides of the sport's landscape.
USC (5-6) limps in a loser in four of its last five games, including a 34-27 decision last week at UCLA. The loss to the Bruins sealed a sub-.500 finish for the Trojans in Pac-12 Conference play, at the same time rendering Saturday's rivalry showdown at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum a must-win for the Trojans to reach a bowl game.
The prospect of reaching a bowl is "very motivating to seniors," said USC cornerback Ajene Harris. But Notre Dame comes in with motivation of its own.
The Fighting Irish (11-0) blasted Syracuse last week 36-3, setting up a regular-season finale that, if it wins, should land Notre Dame in the College Football Playoff for the first time in program history.
Notre Dame's national championship prospects this year signal an abrupt turnaround for the program compared to its last visit to Los Angeles in 2016. The Irish were 4-7 coming in then, with speculation about the future of coach Brian Kelly running rampant.
It's a similar situation to USC currently so much so that last week, Trojans coach Clay Helton cited Notre Dame's rebound under Kelly as reason for optimism amid the worst USC season since 2000.
That was before last week's loss to a 3-8 UCLA team, however a loss that perhaps ups the ante for the Trojans, and Helton's future, this week.
"If you work as hard as you can and do the best job you can for your kids and for the university you love, you have no regrets, and I don't," Helton said.
Helton said he felt "tremendous support" from the administration and athletic director Lynn Swann. Likewise, Helton on Sunday in his weekly conference call reiterated support for true freshman quarterback JT Daniels.
Daniels threw two interceptions at UCLA, including one in the fourth quarter that turned the game's tide firmly in the Bruins favor. Helton cited the quarterback's 337 yards and two scores balancing out the turnovers.
A quarterback controversy loomed over USC in its final month, after redshirt freshman reserve Jack Sears started in place of an injured Daniels on Oct. 27. Sears went 20-of-28 for 235 yards with two touchdowns in a 38-35 loss to Arizona State, USC's first home loss since October 2015, and the first in a two-game home losing streak the Trojans carry into Saturday's matchup with Notre Dame.