No Big Changes
As predicted in the pre-season, Saturday night's Notre Dame/USC matchup will feature a grand stage for one of the nation's leading Heisman Trophy contenders.
Trojans quarterback Matt Barkley, however, will be monitoring that athlete's progress from the sidelines.
USC head coach Lane Kiffin pronounced Barkley out this week due to a separated shoulder suffered in the fourth quarter of Saturday's loss to UCLA. In his stead steps redshirt-freshman Max Wittek, a player Irish head coach Brian Kelly offered a scholarship during the 2011 recruiting process.
"Great kid. Comes from a great program (Mater Dei, Santa Ana, CA). Has the pedigree," said Kelly of the 2011 class's 11th-ranked quarterback. "One of those guys (that) you draw up the prototypical quarterback: 6'4" strong arm, has escapability, student of the game, a great character kid."
Wittek has attempted just nine passes this season with a touchdown pass on his resume.
"He's on scholarship at USC. When you get a scholarship at USC, you're one of the best quarterbacks in the country," said Kelly. "He's big, strong, a physical kid. He has a live arm, and he'll certainly fit into their offensive scheme. He's a perfect fit for what they do."
And regardless of what Wittek brings to the table, Kelly assured the media horde his defense would approach the first-time starter no different than it would the future pro Barkley.
"We're going to do what we do. Absolutely," Kelly said. "At this point, for us to go into one game and (try to) do different things to confuse Max is really crazy. He's watched football, he's going to be watching film. He's going to know our defense. We're going to do what we do because that's gotten us to this point. No big changes on our end.
"You never want to see a great player like Matt get injured in a game, but he's going to have a great career ahead of him so there'll be a lot of good things happening for him."
Heavy the head that wears the crown
Notre Dame is the nation's No. 1 team. How that reality impacts Kelly's newly crowned squad remains to be seen, but the Irish head man knows how it will change USC's approach.
Of course, he knows not because he's been No. 1 before, but because he sees such focus from Irish opponents nearly every week.
"I can only give you my opinion because I don't know what its like at other schools. But we wear that (weight) and feel that in every game we play. No. 1 (means) to us that USC is going to play their very best because they're playing No. 1.
"I don't think kids change when they're No. 1. They go to work the same way, they go to practice the same way. Its the other teams (opponents of No. 1) that play their best. Well, we get that every week anyway. We get the absolute best from our opponents each and every week. For us, its business as usual. They're going to play outstanding football. You better be ready for USC's best."
They've walked a mile in his shoes…
This might surprise readers, but Notre Dame's head coach often receives unsolicited advice from those outside the program's walls.
Kelly listens to precious little (if any), but there are a few words of encouragement and wisdom he cherishes each week during the football season.
"I get my weekly card from Ara (Parseghian). Each week he hand writes a note to me. The great thing is, he's so unassuming. He's done this and been there," said Kelly of the two-time national champion head coach. "But he'll write a note like he doesn't want to assume anything. He's never given any advice, just talking as a Notre Dame fan and alum and its great to get that communication with him."
Parseghian isn't the only Irish legend with whom Kelly has contact.
"I talk to him about some specific things that I'd like to get his opinion on," said Kelly of Lou Holtz. "Ara is much more of a fan, supportive, I invite him up every home game to my box and he politely declines because he thinks he has the best seat in front of his television.
"With Lou, its more about some specific things. (His advice) Extremely valuable. He knows Notre Dame and Ara does as well. Those are great assets.
"Charlie Weis knows Notre Dame and I got a wonderful note from Charlie last week," Kelly said of the five-year Irish leader he replaced at the helm. "It was heartfelt, it talked about the seniors, wishing them the best. It was really a terrific note from Charlie, it was really classy."
Kelly's current 5th-year seniors and the 2012 graduating class were all recruited by Weis, the entire lot either playing for the former Irish head coach in 2009, or being withheld from action as true freshmen that fall.