SOUTH BEND, Ind. — There were no missteps, no signs of flip-flopping as Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly discussed one of his school's historic rivals on Tuesday.
Notre Dame has played USC every year since the end of World War II, and Saturday's game under the lights in South Bend will be meeting No. 85 between the two programs. The way Kelly spoke of the USC rivalry stood in glaring comparison to his feelings toward the Michigan game, which will end in 2014.
"Our players will be the first ones to admit that this is our rivalry game," Kelly said. "This is our game that we look forward to against USC. It's one that it's on our calendar — I don't want to say a red letter game, but one that we look forward to. It's such a great matchup, great tradition, great history. It's part of the history of Notre Dame football that they really recognize as that one singular game."
Notre Dame hasn't beat USC in South Bend since 2001, and lost eight consecutive meetings — including the Bush Push game in 2005 — before topping the Trojans in 2010. Lane Kiffin's squad struck back in 2011, winning 31-17 in a game that marked the low point of a disappointing Irish season.
But Notre Dame beat USC, 22-13, last November to secure a spot in the BCS title game. That's the only meeting between Notre Dame and USC in the Kelly era that involved a ranked team, with Notre Dame No. 1 at the time.
This Saturday's matchup will be more of the same — neither team is ranked in the AP poll — but now that Notre Dame has seemingly regained a foothold on USC, Kelly sees the game as becoming a great rivalry again. With Notre Dame losing so much to USC in the last 10 years, that wasn't the case when the fourth-year coach got to campus.
"We would hope that both programs are competing each and every year for BCS Bowls and playoff opportunities, and I think that's where both programs want to be, that they're on equal footing, that you don't have to wait three, four years to get a win," Kelly said. "I think both programs are looking forward to those days where it's a great matchup year in and year out."