Sports editor predictions — USC at Notre Dame

Annenberg Media editors predict how USC will fare in its toughest test yet under interim head coach Donte Williams.

A graphic that says "Editor predictions: Week 8" with a photo of Drake London

Before each game this USC football season, Annenberg Media’s sports staff will make prop predictions and pick a winner. Read on to see our editors’ picks for Week 7 against Notre Dame.

A graphic with editor predictions for who will win the USC game against Notre Dame with a photo of Donte Williams

If the week-to-week pattern of winning by a lot and then losing by a lot continues for USC, the Trojans are slated to crush Notre Dame Saturday. But I don’t think anyone in their right mind believes that will actually happen — the best bet is that Notre Dame will take this one, and I suspect it won’t be close.

The Trojans’ offense, outside of junior receiver Drake London and occasionally senior running back Keaontay Ingram, hasn’t found a spark since freshman quarterback Jaxson Dart’s debut in Week 3. With Pac-12 contention out of the picture, I doubt we’ll see Dart in this game even if he’s cleared to play — they won’t want to risk his health. There will be a lot of pressure on USC’s offense if Notre Dame is able to rack up points early. The USC defense is the worst Notre Dame has faced in yards per play allowed (6.18) and has conceded more than 40 points in all three of its losses.

However, the Trojans are coming off a bye and have excelled on the road, and this Notre Dame team has kept its opponents in games this season, so if the Trojans play at their level of talent, they could give themselves a chance in this one.

- Amanda Sturges

A graphic with a photo of USC's Drake London and predictions for the over/under against Notre Dame

I anticipate this game hitting the over mainly because I don’t trust USC’s defense one bit. This is a unit that allowed 42, 42 and 46 points to the only semi-commendable opponents it’s played all season. I don’t expect it to flip the switch against the No. 13 team in the country, in a hostile road environment, in sub-50-degree weather. (Maybe I’m blowing that last part out of proportion — I, too, am a California kid.)

Notre Dame’s quarterback carousel and USC’s two weeks of prep are arguments in favor of a half-decent showing, but the Trojans are countered by an underwhelming secondary that most D-I quarterbacks can dice up and an equivalent fortnight of prep for the Irish. Notre Dame might hit the over on its own! Well, probably not, but USC’s offense thrives in garbage time, and given that garbage time will begin around halftime, 58.5 points is basically a lock.

- Nathan Ackerman

A photo of Kedon Slovis with editors' predictions of whether the USC-Notre Dame will be decided by one score

USC will hang around in the first half, but Drake London can only put the offense on his back for so long. Though both teams are allowing an average of 13.3 second-half points on the season, the past three games for both tell a different story. While the Fighting Irish are tightening up their defense to allow just over 10 points in second halves, the Trojans are letting the floodgates open and ceding nearly 20 points to opponents.

The Trojans have gotten good at scoring touchdowns in garbage time to make their defeats seem closer, more tolerable. But I don’t think that’ll be the case this weekend. The Trojans’ third-quarter problems will haunt them in South Bend, and the Fighting Irish will break the game open in the second half, not ceding at any point.

- Ava Brand

A graphic with photos of Keaontay Ingram and Kedon Slovis and predictions of whether USC will have more than 100 rushing yards

I expect Notre Dame’s strong front seven to make it tough for USC to establish the run game early on and limit the Trojans’ rushing attack to a number in the range of 80 to 90 rushing yards. While USC has put up some big numbers in that department against Stanford and Colorado, running the ball hasn’t been a consistently productive part of the Trojans’ pass-heavy Air Raid offense. When USC runs the ball less than 30 times, its running backs have yet to total 100 yards this season.

Given that there’s a solid chance the Trojans are playing from behind in the second half, they will be forced to throw the ball a lot, something junior quarterback Kedon Slovis is no stranger to doing — he attempted 53 passes against Utah two weeks ago and has thrown over 40 times in four of USC’s six games this season. Furthermore, excluding their overtime win over Florida State in Week 1, the Fighting Irish have allowed just 95.6 rushing yards per game and only 3.2 yards per carry.

- Wyatt Allsup

A graphic with a photo of Isaiah Pola-Mao and predictions of how many big plays USC football will give up

USC comes off a much-needed bye week to face a formidable Notre Dame team. I imagine that this is one of the games that all the players circle on their calendars when schedules are released. With two weeks to relax, get healthy and prepare, I’m expecting a hard-fought battle against the Fighting Irish. Key to the Trojans’ success will be limiting big plays; if USC can take out the explosive plays from Notre Dame’s arsenal, it will keep the game close.

- Eddie Sun