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Irish Blogger Gathering: Beat SC Edition

Nov 22, 2012, 8:21 AM EDT

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So this is it…

#1 Notre Dame makes its annual post-Thanksgiving trip west this weekend, and much will be at stake on Saturday night against USC at the Los Angeles Coliseum (8 pm ET on ABC). With a victory, the Irish would secure themselves a place in the BCS championship game on Jan. 7 in Miami.

In preparation for the season finale, I caught up with Keith Arnold of NBC Sports’ Inside The Irish for this week’s Irish Blogger Gathering.

Be sure to check out Her Loyal Sons for my answers, and Subway Domer for the rest of this week’s IBG.

Here is Keith’s take on the Irish this week…

The Trojans are just 7-4 and this week’s reports suggest they will be without quarterback Matt Barkley. I expect Notre Dame to win the game, but I’d be lying if I said this game doesn’t make me a little nervous. Am I just being a typical young ND fan or do I have reason to be concerned?

There’s every reason to be concerned. USC has more talent on their roster than any other team on Notre Dame’s schedule. Maybe even in the country. Adding another element to the queasiness, the Trojans are losing football games because of self-inflicted mistakes, something that you’d expect them to clean up sooner or later. And young ND fans are the ones who get concerned now? You should still have your nerve, compared to those that spent the better part of the last 20 years getting punched below the belt.

That said, not having Matt Barkley is huge. We’ll spend the rest of the week talking about what Max Wittek can do, but he’s making the first start of his career. That’s a mighty task against this Irish defense. Notre Dame needs to play a very good game to walk out of the Coliseum a winner. That means holding onto the football and getting after the quarterback. That’s been the script for 11 games so far. But you aren’t alone if you’re struggling to sleep before the twelfth.

Twelve weeks ago, I asked you to predict where you thought the Irish would stand at this point in the season. You said you don’t normally predict wins and losses, but “If they’re still in the BCS conversation, then [I'll] call it a success.” How surprised are you that the Irish are one win away from playing in the national championship?

I think anybody would be lying if they said they weren’t surprised. But I try to spend every August figuring out a way the Irish can win every one of their games and while this schedule looked tough, I had talked my way into thinking this team could be good… Just like I have for the past 15 years. For the first time since 2005, I think I was rewarded for that optimism. This year has been a whole lot of fun to cover.

All that being said, let’s cut to the chase: Notre Dame is one game away from playing for the national title. It’s between the Irish and USC to go to the BCS Championship game against (most likely) Alabama. Those are unbelievable words to type. Words that make you thinking you’ve been drooling on your pillow. We are watching (potential) history before our very eyes, and every day I wake up feeling lucky that I get to cover this run.

With one loss, last week’s Heisman frontrunner Collin Klein seems to have been eliminated from the race. More recent projections have Johnny Manziel in first and Manti Te’o in second. Can HeIsManti beat out Johnny Football? If so, how? Or is the Heisman too much of an offensive award?

The stage will certainly be set for Te’o this weekend, and an untested quarterback that’s going to have to throw the football to win is the perfect recipe for a game-changing play or two for Te’o. Believe me, I get all the Johnny Football hype, but I have a hard time believing he’s the best player in the country, especially considering he laid just as big of an egg as Klein did when he threw three picks against LSU and all but cost his team the game.

But that’s the era of football we live in. There’s nothing particularly flashy about taking on a guard in the hole or making nine tackles a Saturday. And as an inside linebacker, Te’o plays a position where greatness is hard to encapsulate in a SportsCenter clip. But win Saturday night with all of college football’s eyes on Los Angeles and we might have a different story.

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