This historically familiar Thanksgiving weekend matchup between rivals Notre Dame and USC in L.A. is not short on major storylines. Both programs feature energetic, well thought of young coaches that are trying to jumpstart their tenures in year one with a ton to play for entering game 12.
This game should be the first of many nationally relevant battles between Marcus Freeman and Lincoln Riley. Each of these coaches is in year 1 of long-term deals. Each is also quickly shaping and forming the culture of their program under their vision and styles, which are quite contrasting in nature and add to the intrigue of what this rivalry will look like in the near future.
Let's take an in-depth look at what's at stake for both programs as we enter game 1 between new-look Notre Dame and USC.
Control Of The Rivalry
Nov 5, 2022; South Bend, Indiana, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish head coach Marcus Freeman reacts in the first quarter against the Clemson Tigers at Notre Dame Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports
Notre Dame has won 7 of the last 9 meetings with USC and every game since 2017. USC has been in a downtrend for much of the last decade and Notre Dame took advantage and has seized control of the rivalry.
For bragging rights, recruiting battles and simply for general program momentum, both first-year head coaches want to win this ballgame badly. What happens in this initial matchup between Freeman and Riley will set the tone for what could be a decade-long battle of heavyweight brands.
Multiple Top 5 Wins
Nov 5, 2022; South Bend, Indiana, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish running back Audric Estime (7) celebrates with fans on the field after defeating the Clemson Tigers at Notre Dame Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports
Brian Kelly left Notre Dame as the all-time winningest coach in history. The issue is that while he won a lot of games, they tended to not be ones that resulted in Notre Dame ultimately winning anything the fan base cares about big picture. His record in high-level bowl games and top-10 matchups was abysmal.
After a decade-plus of these complaints, first-year head coach Marcus Freeman has a chance to do something Kelly never did. Freeman can knock off two top-five teams in the same year. After dominating Clemson, a win over USC would certainly show Irish fans that there is without a doubt a "higher ceiling" under Freeman than Kelly.
Nov. 19, 2022; South Bend, Indiana; The Boston College Eagles prepare to snap the ball in the fourth quarter against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at Notre Dame Stadium. Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports
Notre Dame and USC seem to always overlap in recruiting efforts to pull top end talent to their respective schools. Adding to this, it's traditional for the Irish staff to stay out west and recruit after the USC game on years where it falls as an away game at the Coliseum.
Knocking off a pair of top-five teams in a month's span and then recruiting USC's territory fresh off a win at their place would certainly be something Notre Dame fans would be most thankful for this year. You can expect it would pay major dividends on the recruiting trail.
USC's Playoff Hunt
Nov 29, 2021; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Lincoln Riley reacts during a press conference to introduce Riley as Southern California Trojans head coach at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
This isn't just about the Notre Dame side of things. All it took was one year, lots of excitement, and NIL money, and USC is sitting with one loss and in prime position for a playoff berth in Lincoln Riley's debut season in Troy. Notre Dame can end this hope with a victory Saturday night.
What I find most interesting about this dynamic is the position this game puts teams and fans of other teams in. USC potentially holds a playoff spot a handful of teams are vying for. Fans of these teams, all of which are predisposed to hate the Irish, will have no choice but to root for them to win so their team has a chance at that spot.
Caleb Williams' Heisman Push
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
USC quarterback Caleb Williams is very much in the mix for college football's most prized individual award. It's one that both Notre Dame and USC are very much used to winning historically. He has accounted for 3,480 yards and 33 touchdowns this year.
USC would like nothing more than for this game under the brightest of lights in L.A. to be not only a final playoff push but also a Heisman coronation ceremony on full display. Notre Dame would like nothing more than to ruin both of these dreams at once.
Stakes are high and something has to give.
Story originally appeared on Fighting Irish Wire