SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) – Former USC coach John Robinson will do something Saturday he’s never done before – sit in the stands at Notre Dame Stadium as a fan.

“I’ve bought a red sweater and I’m going to go in there and cheer like crazy for the Trojans,” Robinson said. “I’m going to go to Chicago, go to the rally, watch the USC band at the rally and soak in all of it.”

Robinson isn’t alone in wanting to soak in the atmosphere. Ninth-ranked Notre Dame has moved its Friday night pep rally, normally held in the 11,418-seat Joyce Center, to the stadium because of high interest and tickets for the game against the top-ranked Trojans have been selling for more than $400 each.

Robinson isn’t surprised. He learned from his predecessor, John McKay, there was nothing better than traveling to South Bend and beating the Fighting Irish. USC has accomplished the feat only 10 times in 34 tries (10-23-1), with McKay and Robinson doing it three times each and coach Pete Carroll once. Robinson is making the trip because he senses something special in the air.

“I think there’s a moment here,” Robinson said. “Notre Dame is becoming a formidable opponent again. They’re both back. This is good stuff. That’s when this game is at its best, when both teams are good. I wouldn’t want to miss this.”

Who would? For just the second time since 1990, the two teams enter the game ranked in the Top 10. Southern California (5-0) has been ranked No. 1 for 25 straight polls, while the Irish (4-1) have their highest ranking since reaching No. 7 heading to Los Angeles to play No. 6 USC in the final regular-season game in 2002.

The 44-13 loss not only cost the Irish a shot at a Bowl Championship Series spot, many believe it clinched the Heisman Trophy for USC quarterback Carson Palmer. It also was the beginning of the end for first-year coach Irish coach Tyrone Willingham, who saw the Irish go 11-14 after a 10-1 start.

Meanwhile, the Trojans have lost just once since then, winning consecutive national championships while Matt Leinart added another Heisman Trophy to the USC trophy case.

Many Notre Dame fans believe the Irish are again at a similar crossroads. They hope the Irish are ready to show under first-year coach Charlie Weis they are ready to reclaim their place among the nation’s elite. But in the back of their minds, they can’t forget about three straight 31-point losses to USC – the most lopsided three-game stretch in the 76-year history of the series.

Robinson, who retired as UNLV coach last season, said that’s what makes the game so exciting. “Notre Dame is on the rise and everybody who goes has a feeling in the pit of their stomach in not knowing what’s going to happen,” he said.

Former Irish coach Lou Holtz said he thinks the game likely will be USC’s most difficult this year. He also believes it could be a special game.

“This is the type of game you live for,” he said. “From the time you put on a pair of shoes, you want to play in this game.”

The series has been marked by streaks. Since 1978, the winning team has won at least three straight. During 1983-95, the Irish went 12-0-1. Then USC won three straight, then the Irish did, then USC did again.

Robinson, who was 6-1 against the Irish in his first stint as USC coach and 2-2-1 the second time, thinks the streaks are part of the normal up-and-down cycle all teams go through. Holtz, who was 9-1-1 against the Trojans, had no explanation.

“They could have won many of those games,” he said.

But Holtz knows how important beating USC can be. In his first season as Irish coach in 1986, the Irish were down 37-20 in the fourth quarter and scored 18 unanswered points to win. “I think that win really turned our program around,” Holtz said.

Robinson’s memory of the series is more of a montage. The montage includes a 27-25 win over the Irish en route to the national championship in 1978 and the famous Green Jersey Game in 1977, when the Irish warmed up in their blue jerseys and came out for the game wearing green.

“What I remember is standing on the sideline, thinking, Hey, that’s a pretty good trick,”‘ Robinson said. “I remember the noise was unbelievable. You could feel it on your face.”

Robinson wouldn’t be surprised to see the Irish pull out the green jerseys again Saturday. Weis, though, who was in the stands as a student for the game, said while the Irish might wear green again someday, it probably won’t be Saturday.

“That emotional stuff doesn’t last too long,” he said. “I think we’re going to have to play our best game to have a chance to win.”

AP-ES-10-11-05 1701EDT


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