USC Football: Why Notre Dame Will Be Trojans' Toughest Competition in 2013

Ian Berg@@ShugJordanPkwyCorrespondent IFebruary 27, 2013

LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 24:  Max Wittek #13 of the USC Trojans looks to pass during a 22-13 loss to the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on November 24, 2012 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Harry How/Getty Images

The USC Trojans fell far short of expectations last season when the program ended with a 7-5 record and two consecutive losses to finish the year against rivals UCLA and Notre Dame.

The Trojans are in a must-win scenario heading into 2013. As they look for wins, circled on the calendar is a road trip to Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish will be USC's toughest test of the year.

Lane Kiffin is on a short leash in Los Angeles despite recent support from athletic director Pat Haden. Losing big for a second year in a row is simply unacceptable. All eyes will be in the Trojans' direction as they travel to South Bend this fall.

Notre Dame made an unbelievable run for the national title last year, falling just short of winning the crystal ball when they fell to Alabama in Miami. The Fighting Irish will be looking for another run at the title, while the Trojans will be looking for a marquee win in 2013.

USC will head into the new season with questions at quarterback. The Trojans lost star signal-caller Matt Barkley and game-changer Robert Woods at receiver to the NFL.

There are also gaps that have to be filled along the defense.

On the opposite side of the field, the Fighting Irish return a number of playmakers pivotal in last year's undefeated run.

Starting quarterback Everett Golson is back in the fold and explosive runner George Atkinson III is returning to the backfield.

The Irish also return star cover corners Bennett Jackson and KeiVarae Russell. As the Trojans struggle to find consistency at quarterback, playing a team with the skill that the Irish have in the secondary will be one of the toughest tasks of the year.

Notre Dame also returns Prince Shembo, Dan Fox and Danny Spond at linebacker. All three will help anchor a dangerous unit that could outperform the 2012 defensive squad.

Silas Redd returns for the Trojans at running back and should be able to have a strong year, but he will face a wall against Notre Dame in October.

USC will square off with a lot of tough competition inside the Pac-12, but the Trojans draw its toughest games at home. The most difficult road contest inside the conference will come to Arizona State on September 28.

Sandwiched between two home conference games comes Notre Dame, and with the press that will lead up to this game, a loss could be the end of the Kiffin era in Los Angeles.

This game will be tough to win and it could also carry the weight of a coach’s future with its outcome.