When the Notre Dame Fighting Irish travel to Los Angeles, California to play the USC Trojans, more than bragging rights in a fierce rivalry will be on the line. Instead, the No. 1 Irish will be fighting for an appearance in the 2013 BCS National Championship Game.
This year's Notre Dame vs. USC showdown is the biggest game the Irish have played since the 1994 Cotton Bowl Classic.
For those unfamiliar with the game, the Irish defeated the Texas A&M Aggies by a score of 24-21. As a result of their heart-stopping victory, Notre Dame remained in contention for a split in the National Championship.
For more history, just ask Charlie Ward. Since the Heisman Award-winner and former New York Knick is unavailable, I'll offer up some insight.
Prior to running the New York backcourt, Ward was an award-winning quarterback for the Florida State Seminoles. The Thomasville, Georgia native led the Seminoles to the 1994 National Championship Game, despite dropping a regular-season contest to Notre Dame.
By virtue of the Irish's victory over FSU, speculation began to swirl in relation to a shared National Title. A reasonable ND prayer that would not be answered.
Although the Irish would not be named co-champions, the game was one of the most significant in the history of the storied program. As the Irish close in on the opportunity to win the 2013 title outright, images of the Cotton Bowl must be present in the minds of Notre Dame nation.
All the Fighting Irish can do here is win at all costs. If they're unable to, Brian Kelly's crew will learn how unforgiving the National Title picture can be.
BCS on the Line
No matter how phenomenal this team may be, they are without a paddle if they lose to USC. Not only will they be an afterthought in the selection process for the National Championship Game, but they may miss out on the BCS bowls altogether.
When you play without a conference, that's what you can come to expect, even if your schedule has been more tedious than that of most major conference teams.
To have gone through this season in such an extraordinary manner and eventually miss out on the major bowl games would be devastating. The Irish have done the unthinkable time and time again, pulling out unexpected victories both on the road and at home.
They've traveled to Norman, Oklahoma and upset the Oklahoma Sooners and to East Lansing, Michigan to take down the Michigan State Spartans. At home, ND has defeated the likes of Stanford and Michigan.
They also blew out the Miami Hurricanes by a score of 41-3.
To achieve such extraordinary victories and walk away empty-handed would be nothing short of crushing. Should they lose to USC, that's exactly what will transpire.
With November 17 losses for Kansas State's Collin Klein and Oregon's Kenjon Barner, the Heisman Trophy race has been busted wide open. Although some will speculate that Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel is now in the driver's seat, his team has two losses.
Regardless of where your fan allegiances may lie, acknowledge the undeniable. The leader of the pack and most deserving recipient is Notre Dame middle linebacker Manti Te'o.
Unless the Irish lose to USC.
Te'o playing on defense already decreases his chances of taking home the award. Charles Woodson was the last defensive player to do so, winning the Heisman in 1997 for the Michigan Wolverines.
The difference is, Woodson was a cornerback that returned punts and kicks. Te'o is a linebacker.
The Heisman Trophy has been awarded 77 times since its inception in 1935. Never in that period of time has a linebacker won the award.
Now if that doesn't make the odds even slimmer for Te'o to win the Heisman, what will? Try a loss to USC.
Should Notre Dame drop this game against the Trojans, its field general will stand no chance. If they're able to go into the Coliseum and win, however, Te'o will have his day.
National Championship Game
Upon being named the No. 1 team in the BCS rankings, it's fair to assume that Notre Dame will be in the National Championship Game should they defeat USC. Considering they're the only undefeated team in the nation, the chances of such improve significantly.
Should the Irish lose to USC, however, they're eliminated entirely.
As it presently stands, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Oregon, Kansas State, Florida State and Clemson all have one loss. Although Notre Dame is likely to finish ahead of Clemson, who are not eligible for the ACC Championship Game, the other six teams could give them trouble.
With Alabama and Georgia playing each other in the SEC Championship and Florida playing Florida State on November 24, two teams will be eliminated. The question is, would the Irish finish ahead of the other three?
Barring those teams suffering a loss, it's hard to believe they would. Especially not when the Irish do not play in a conference championship game to pass the eye test, which Oregon and FSU both will.
It's win or go home empty-handed for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. Are they up for the task?