USC looks to salvage season against Notre Dame

LOS ANGELES -- Like two proud but beat up former heavyweight champions, the USC Trojans (7-4, 6-3 Pac-12) and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish (7-4) stagger into Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Saturday in what turns out to be their final round of the 2014 regular season.

Both unranked programs are hurting from difficult Saturday losses, as the Trojans were completely humbled by rival UCLA, 38-20, in the Rose Bowl while the Irish helped beat themselves by missing a field goal at the end of a 31-28 loss against Louisville at home.

The Trojans are now 2-2 in their last four games while the Irish have lost three in the same span. The two teams have two common Pac-12 opponents -- Stanford and Arizona State. Both the Trojans and Irish beat the Cardinal but lost to the Sun Devils.

The winner of this matchup will have dodged another negative public relations bullet while the vanquished returns home after losing in one of the country's greatest rivalries.

There were already signs shortly after the UCLA loss that the Trojans were turning their attention to the Irish and trying to finish the season on a high note.

First-year Trojans head coach Steve Sarkisian addressed the Notre Dame at his postgame news conference.

"It's going to be a unique challenge for us," Sarkisian said. "We have to get back up on the horse, and when there's this level of disappointment that's going to take great leadership. That starts with me getting these guys prepared to play Notre Dame next Saturday night."

And the Trojans players were already taking a cue from their head coach and planning ahead.

"For me, I am ready to bounce back for Notre Dame," said Adoree' Jackson, the Trojans standout true freshman corner.

For other Trojans, beating the Irish is important for personal reasons.

"Beating Notre Dame is for the seniors," junior linebacker Anthony Sarao said. "Nothing is going to stop this team on Saturday."

When it comes to the Trojans team leadership, junior captain and quarterback Cody Kessler, who took quite a beating in the UCLA game, was already turning his attention to the visitors from South Bend.

"I am excited to play Notre Dame," Kessler said. "It think it's going to be a fun game, and I want to win it for Hayes (Pullard) and all the other seniors."

The Irish are also focusing on USC after their gut-wrenching loss to Louisville.

"We're not even focused on next year right now," said Irish sophomore linebacker Jaylon Smith from Fort Wayne, Indiana. "Right now, it's all about our rivalry next week and finding a way to get a victory."

"I feel like we look at every game as a big game," said Irish sophomore running back Tarean Folston after the Louisville loss. "Not just because of the rivalry, but because it's college football and we have to play a tough opponent each and every week. Next week is going to be a great challenge for us."

You can also expect a resolute Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly bringing out an Irish team to the West Coast ready to battle. Kelly is old school and a tough-minded mentor, and any player boarding that plane out of South Bend better be ready to beat the Trojans.

As for Sarkisian, beating Notre Dame has now become even more paramount after losing to Rival No. 1, the UCLA Bruins. Trojans coaches don't traditionally last long losing to both UCLA and Notre Dame in the same season.

But there is a more compelling reason for winning on Saturday.

It's simply USC versus Notre Dame.