Blue and Gold Illustrated

Nov. 26, 2018

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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38 NOV. 26, 2018 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED BY LOU SOMOGYI HOT SEAT WATCH During this decade, it seems every time Notre Dame plays USC the Tro- jans head football coach is on the hot seat. In nine seasons at Notre Dame, Brian Kelly has already faced four difference USC head coaches, the most ever by any Fighting Irish boss. First, it was Lane Kiffin (2010-13) who was dismissed prior to the half- way mark in 2013. Ed Orgeron took on the interim role for the Trojans, but it was former Trojans assistant and Washington head coach Steve Sarkisian who was hired as the head coach in 2014. After Sarkisian was ousted mid- way through 2015, Clay Helton took over. Unlike Orgeron two years ear- lier, he was hired as the head coach moving forward. The initial groundswell of discon- tent and skepticism with Helton, who was perceived to be "out of his league," was when his 2016 cam- paign debuted with a 52-6 loss to Alabama and a 1-3 start. The Trojans then won their final nine games, capped by a 45-27 win versus Notre Dame and a thrilling 52-49 triumph over Penn State in the Rose Bowl to finish No. 3 in the final Associated Press poll — the highest ever by a three-loss team. Then in 2017, for the first time since 2007-08, USC produced back- to-back seasons with at least 10 vic- tories, highlighted by its first Pac-12 conference championship since 2008. The Trojans defeated Stanford in the Pac-12 title game 31-28 after having also defeated the Cardinal 42-24 in the second game of the season. Although the final record of 11-3 looked better on paper than the 10-3 result in 2016, it was a little less ful- filling at the end despite the league title. Last year, in addition to the 49-14 trouncing at Notre Dame, the Tro- jans were physically manhandled in a 24-7 loss to Ohio State in the Cotton Bowl to finish No. 12 in the AP poll, one spot behind the Irish. Once again, questions resurfaced on whether Helton possessed the coaching traits to restore the Trojans' dominance that was experienced under John McKay (1960-75), John Robinson (1976-82) and Pete Carroll (2001-09). To many, Helton has become this generation's version of Larry Smith, who led USC to three consecutive Rose Bowls from 1987-89 (although never defeating Notre Dame), before badly faltering from 1990-92. This season, home losses to Ari- zona State (Oct. 27) and Cal (Nov. 10) only intensified rumblings nationally that Helton might follow Louisville's Bobby Petrino as the next head coach to get the axe. The loss to the Sun Devils also re- sulted in a chain reaction effect that included the firing of offensive line coach Neil Callaway, stripping of- fensive coordinator Tee Martin from his play-calling duties (reportedly now belonging to Helton) and the dreaded public vote of confidence from athletics director Lynn Swann. "I believe in him," Swann said of Helton during a segment on Trojans Live three days after the loss to Ari- zona State. "I like the position that he takes. He is passionate about what he does. "He is honest and real in what he wants to accomplish and how he wants to accomplish it. There is no false chatter." The loss at home to Cal Nov. 10 was especially demoralizing. An- other setback to Notre Dame this year could become a tipping point. FSU OF THE WEST? Of the top five brand names on the 2018 Notre Dame schedule — Michi- gan, Stanford, Virginia Tech, Florida State and USC — only the Wolver- ines have lived up to the hype or potential. The other four have been either out of sorts (Florida State) or out of character (Stanford), not un- like Notre Dame in 2016. The Seminoles and Trojans reflect how while recruiting rankings are important — as demonstrated re- peatedly by Alabama, Clemson and Ohio State — they can become dra- matically mitigated if the infrastruc- GAME PREVIEW: USC Top STorylineS After starting the season a disappointing 5-5, USC head coach Clay Helton has seen his critics come out again. PHOTO BY JOHN MCGILLEN/COURTESY USC

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