For Notre Dame, USC, the preseason script is flipped

947739.png

For Notre Dame, USC, the preseason script is flipped

LOS ANGELES -- Three months ago, Notre Dame was on the outside looking in. Nobody projected them to make a BCS bowl, let alone challenge for a national championship. The idea of having a Heisman candidate was just as far-fetched, and many wondered if another mediocre season would put coach Brian Kelly squarely on the hot seat.
USC, on the other hand, topped plenty of preseason polls, with Matt Barkley tabbed to lead the Trojans to the BCS Championship about a month after garnering the Heisman Trophy. It was supposed to be Lane Kiffin's signature year, one that returned USC to the level set by Pete Carroll over the previous decade.
Notre Dame-USC has championship implications, features a Heisman candidate and a coach that, despite a reassurance from his athletic director, could be on the hot seat -- just as everyone predicted. Except the teams are flipped.
"It's a long season, it's college football, it's 18 to 21 year olds," coach Brian Kelly said. "There are so many factors go into this."
If Notre Dame beats USC, they'll move on to play for a national championship, which would be the program's first in 24 years. Manti Te'o is the legitimate Heisman candidate, and is likely to wind up in New York while Barkley remains home. And a season that could see USC lose as many as six times has many questioning Kiffin's ability to lead USC to the kind of success it enjoyed over the last decade.
"We get asked all the time, hey, did you expect to win 11 or 12?" Kelly said. "We know the unexpected is always out there, so we try to stay focused on the next practice. If we did what you did and did that big picture stuff, it would drive us crazy, too."
Nobody's faulting the preseason predictions that had Notre Dame winning eight or nine games at the most. And nobody's questioning why USC, with all its offensive firepower, was the preseason No. 1. Both were logical projections in August, as illogical as they may look now.
"Preseason predictions are mostly based off the year before," Notre Dame center Braxston Cave said. "Last year was last year, this year's this year."
That's a simple way to put it. But with Everett Golson quarterbacking the Irish offense, the team hasn't experienced the devastating spate of turnovers that plagued the team for much of the 2011 season. Despite losing Michael Floyd and seeing Tyler Eifert's production drop off, Notre Dame's offense has been good enough to support one of the nation's best defenses. Led by Te'o, Notre Dame's defense is only allowing 10.1 points per game -- the best average in the country.
"We've put ourselves in this position, and Manti's played unbelievable this year and he's also put himself in the position that he's in the way he's worked this year, not because of last year," Cave said. "It feels like everything's coming in to place."
Notre Dame's meteoric rise has coincided with USC's decline, with the Trojans failing to register any truly impressive wins in their 11 games. Shootout losses to Arizona and Oregon have combined with a close loss to Stanford and a lackluster performance against crosstown rival UCLA, with that loss to the Bruins dropping USC out of the top 25. No team since 1964 began the season the AP No. 1 and fell out of the top 25 -- at least, until this year.
Barkley has thrown the second-most interceptions of any FBS quarterback with 15, casting a dark cloud on some other impressive totals. Sophomore Marqise Lee emerged as a go-to option and arguably the nation's best receiver and Robert Woods remained effective despite a decreased presence in USC's offense, but the Trojans have turned the ball over 29 times -- the fifth-highest total among FBS teams.
Make no mistake, USC still holds powerful cards in its offensive deck, even with Barkley on the shelf for Saturday's game. But Monte Kiffin's defense has let USC down, too, allowing 392.2 yards and 24.8 points per game -- averages that land the Trojans squarely among college football's mediocre defenses.
It hasnt turned out so far how wed have liked or how we anticipated," USC athletic director Pat Haden told reporters earlier in the week. "We were probably over-hyped at the beginning of the season to be perfectly honest."
But this is where we are, with Notre Dame one win away from a berth in the BCS Championship. This was supposed to be USC's moment, not Notre Dame's. It was supposed to be Barkley's trip to New York, not Te'o's. And it was supposed to be Kelly looking over his shoulder, not Kiffin.
It's a fascinating flipping of the script, and one that Kelly could only chuckle at when confronted with it earlier this week.
"That's why they play the games, you know."

Bears promote tight end Ben Braunecker to 53-man roster, waive C.J. Wilson

Bears promote tight end Ben Braunecker to 53-man roster, waive C.J. Wilson

The Bears announced on Saturday they have elevated tight end Ben Braunecker from the practice squad to the 53-man roster and waived defensive lineman C.J. Wilson.

Braunecker, 22, signed with the Bears as an undrafted free agent out of Harvard following the 2016 NFL Draft. In 25 collegiate games, Braunecker compiled 68 receptions for 1,168 yards and 10 touchdowns. Braunecker was named first team All-America (AP, Walter Camp and STATS) and selected as the CFPA tight end award recipient following his senior season.

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

Wilson, who signed with the Bears earlier in the week, has appeared in 78 games with the Green Bay Packers (2010-13), Oakland Raiders (2014-15) and Detroit Lions (2015). Wilson has notched 111 tackles, 6.5 sacks and 15 TFL's throughout his six-year NFL career.

The Bears' 53-man roster is now full.

Watch: Illini present Huskers with signed jersey in honor of Sam Foltz

sam-foltz-1001.png

Watch: Illini present Huskers with signed jersey in honor of Sam Foltz

Big Ten teams have been honoring Sam Foltz all season long, and Illinois came up with a new way to honor him Saturday.

The Nebraska punter was tragically killed in a car accident in July, and teams playing the Huskers this season have done everything including lay flowers on the 27-yard line (Foltz wore No. 27) and wear helmet stickers honoring Foltz.

Saturday, Illinois visited Lincoln, and the Illini's specialists presented the Huskers' specialists with a Foltz Illinois jersey autographed by the team.

And Nebraska caught the emotional exchange on video. It's a must watch.

It's certainly been an emotional season for Nebraska, but it's great to see the whole Big Ten coming together to honor Foltz's memory.