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Updated: Saturday, November 30, 2002 8:58 AM EST
NCAA FOOTBALL PREVIEW
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No. 7 Notre Dame (10-1) at No. 6 USC (9-2)
NOTRE DAME FIGHTING IRISH
Notre Dame Fighting Irish
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USC TROJANS
USC Trojans
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LOS ANGELES (Ticker) -- Standing in the way of a lucrative payday for Notre Dame is one of the hottest quarterbacks in the country.

Carson Palmer has made a late push for the Heisman Trophy and will lead sixth-ranked Southern California against No. 7 Notre Dame in the 74th edition of one of the best intersectional rivalries in college football.

Notre Dame (10-1) is almost certain to land a BCS bowl berth with a win on Saturday and with it would come a payoff of between $11 million and $14 million. As an independent, Notre Dame would not have to share the money with any other school.

But the Fighting Irish must find a way to contain Palmer, who as a senior has finally reached the potential that was predicted of him in earlier years.

Palmer threw four touchdown passes in last week's 52-21 rout of UCLA. In his last five games, Palmer has thrown for 1,581 yards and 19 touchdowns.

"It is obvious to everyone that he poses more than just a little problem," said Notre Dame Tyrone Willingham, who faced USC yearly in his previous job at Stanford.

The Trojans (9-2) have won six straight games and also are in contention for a BCS berth. USC also can clinch the Pac-10 Conference title and a trip to the Rose Bowl if Washington State loses to UCLA next week.

"There is a lot on the line in this game," Notre Dame flanker Arnaz Battle said. "Both teams have BCS dreams."

Battle was a member of the 1998 Notre Dame that traveled to USC with a potential BCS berth on the line, and the Fighting Irish fell flat in a 10-0 loss. Battle came off the bench that day as a quarterback for Notre Dame, throwing for 94 yards and rushing for 25 more.

Battle hopes to be catching passes this week from Carlyle Holiday, who has struggled for most of the season but threw four touchdown passes in a 42-0 win over Rutgers last week.

Ryan Grant ran for 68 yards on 18 carries, including a 28-yard TD run in the third period. He become the first Notre Dame running back to surpass the 1,000-yard mark since Autry Denson in 1998, raising his season total to 1,001. Grant bounced back after fumbling five times in his previous two games.

Willingham last week became the winningest first-year coach in the program's storied history. He surpassed Terry Brennan (1954) and Ara Parseghian (1964), who went 9-1 in their first seasons in South Bend.

Notre Dame has relied on its defense and that unit will be tested by USC, which has reached 40 points in a season five times for the first time since 1979.

Kareem Kelly of USC has 198 career receptions, three short of the school record held by Johnnie Morton. Freshman Mike Williams needs just three receiving yards to reach 1,000 for the season.

Notre Dame leads the series, 42-26-5, and has won the last three meetings after the Trojans won the previous three. Notre Dame ran for 208 yards and capitalized on three second-half turnovers in a 27-16 win in South Bend last season.

Saturday marks the first time since 1989 that both teams rank in the top 10 of a major poll at the time of the meeting.`

The Trojans have won eight straight games at Los Angeles Coliseum, its longest since a 10-game run in 1987 and 1988.

Cy Young Award winners Barry Zito and Randy Johnson, both Trojan alumni, will be honored in an on-field presentation.


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