SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) -USC coach Pete Carroll warned the Trojans before the season began.
Many people - including some Trojan players - thought the only way USC would lose this season was if it beat itself. The Trojans returned seven players on offense, including Heisman hopeful John David Booty, 10 on defense and were a near-unanimous choice as No. 1 in The Associated Press preseason poll, receiving 62 of the 65 first-place.
Carroll didn't mind the ranking, but tried to rid his team of thoughts they were unbeatable by showing them scores from critical parts of games from last season.
``It was to show how difficult these games are,'' Carroll said. ``If you look back and you think all of the games last year, you won 10 (regular-season) games and we rolled right through it. We didn't at all. We fought every single game, particularly in the conference, to get those wins.''
The Trojans (5-1) are being challenged even more this season and face a lot of questions heading into Saturday's game at Notre Dame.
They haven't played well the past three games, struggling in wins over Washington and Arizona and losing 24-23 at home to Stanford, which was a 41-point underdog.
The struggles against three teams with a combined record of 6-13, along with injuries, dropped the Trojans to No. 13 in the poll, their lowest ranking since the eighth week of 2002, Carroll's second season at USC.
Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis thinks people are taking USC for granted.
``They've been so good for a while that when they're not winning by three or four touchdowns, everyone thinks that's a problem. You've got to remember, when you're at the perch where they've been, everyone's gunning for you every week,'' Weis said. ``I think sometimes people don't give USC their just due because they've been so good for so long.''
USC has been the most successful team in the country since 2002, going 64-7 and winning two national championships while narrowly missing a third. The Trojans are going for their sixth straight win against Notre Dame.
Carroll, though, said the concerns about the injury-riddled Trojans are warranted.
``Where are we right now? We're just trying to win a football game,'' he said.
Carroll said he knows Notre Dame, with its 1-6 record, ``looks like this should be an easy game for us.''
``It's not going to be,'' he said. ``This is a good, hard-playing football team right now. They're finding themselves and trying to get on track with a bunch of new starters and new guys.''
The Trojans are trying to get back on track themselves.
``We have a lot to prove as a team,'' cornerback Cary Harris said. ``We haven't been playing the way we want to play.''
Weis said the fact USC lost to Stanford does help the Irish, because now they have evidence the Trojans aren't unbeatable.
The challenge for Notre Dame is to mount enough offense to make a game of it. Its best scoring game was a 20-6 win over UCLA two weeks, while the Trojans' season-low output was a 20-13 win over Arizona last week.
Both teams could be using inexperienced quarterbacks.
Junior Evan Sharpley will make his first start for the Irish in place of freshman Jimmy Clausen. He is Notre Dame's third starting quarterback this season. Mark Sanchez could make his second start for the Trojans if Booty misses a second straight game with a broken finger on his throwing hand.
The Trojans are favored by 17 points, the second-smallest point spread this season for USC. They were favored by 10 against Nebraska, a game USC won 41-39.
Carroll is hopeful that some injured Trojans might be healthy enough to play against the Irish. USC is trying to get back to full strength for upcoming games against No. 7 Oregon, No. 10 California and No. 12 Arizona State.
Carroll said he hopes the Trojans can get rolling like they did in the final third of last season, when they rolled off easy wins against Stanford, Oregon, California and Notre Dame before losing to UCLA.
``That's still out there for us. That could still happen now,'' he said. ``I have that in my mind that that's a likely scenario if things come together, if we have good fortune and our guys hang.''

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