When Notre Dame fans looked at the team's schedule this season, they had to feel confident.
Gone were the brutal week-after-week Top 25 opponents of yesteryear. Through both smart scheduling and a few lucky breaks -- a down year here or there -- Notre Dame could legitimately look at their 12 game slate and imagine themselves in a BCS bowl. It wasn't all that farfetched. (Heck, Lou Holtz, never afraid to say crazy stuff, had ND in the national title game.) And the USC game would be the biggest of them all.
Weeks later, it's a different story for Notre Dame. The program isn't fighting for national respect or a shot at the BCS title or to preserve an undefeated record. It's fighting for its coach's life.
Make no mistake: Weis is in serious trouble at ND. He's in his fifth year. He's had plenty of time to recruit his players and implement them in his system. Thus far, nothing has taken. It's not that this year's Irish team is bad. It's that fans imagine more, and given the caliber of players Weis has recruited and the way he's commanded the program in South Bend -- his I'm-smarter-than-you-people attitude that seethes through every press conference is particularly grating -- has put Weis on the rocks.
Which is why he so desperately needs a unifying home win over USC. This is the year to get it: Pete Carroll's Trojans are vulnerable on the road, having already dropped a game to Washington, and there have been few indicators that USC is as dominant as in recent years. Notre Dame isn't a major underdog here. This is doable.
For Weis' sake, it better be. A bevy of top recruits will be on hand on Saturday, and few things would be more impressive than a win over Southern California. If Weis wants to be around long enough to convince those recruits Notre Dame is the national power its fans demand, the Irish will have to do more than just play well. They have to win.
Eamonn Brennan is a Chicago-based writer, editor and blogger. You can also read him at Yahoo! Sports, Mouthpiece Sports Blog, and Inside The Hall, or at his personal site, eamonnbrennan.com. Follow him on Twitter.