POINT/COUNTERPOINT: Who is America's Team?

 Brian Curtis and Eric Sorenson slug it out over the most pressing football questions

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    Brian Curtis, CSTV Senior Editor Eric Sorenson, CSTV.com Analyst
    Notre Dame. Notre Dame is college football. It is Rockne, Rudy and autumn Saturdays in South Bend. The Fighting Irish are "America's Team," despite what fans of almost every other football-playing school will scream. It goes back before you and I walked the earth, and it seems likely to continue for decades to come.

    Disclaimer: I believe USC will win on Saturday.

    We yearn for Notre Dame to be on top of the college football world. In fact, some in the media do whatever they can to make it happen. Take a look at the polls over the years and how quickly Notre Dame has risen-including this season. Voters secretly want the Irish in the Top 10 and will do whatever it takes to get them there - fast. Notre Dame got one vote in the preseason Associated Press poll, putting it in at about #40 in the country. After its first win, ND jumps to #20. After the Michigan game, the Irish vault to #10, leaping over teams who hadn't lost yet. And after losing to Michigan State, they drop just six spots.

    There's also the lure of pop culture and Notre Dame. Remember the movie about the USC kid who came back from injury? Or the famous recording of Bobby Bowden giving a pre-game speech? No, you don't, because most of the great football movies, films and recorded memories come from South Bend, which turns an indifferent fan into a Notre Dame fan. Rudy symbolized what is best about college football and the human spirit and - surprise - it centered on Notre Dame.

    Then there's the schedule and the television contract. No one can argue that Notre Dame doesn't play a tough national schedule. In 2005, the first half was more difficult than the second will be, but it still spreads the Irish around the country. West Coast team? USC and Stanford. Mountain states? BYU. Southern? Tennessee. Northeast? Syracuse. Mid-Atlantic? Navy. You get the idea. Whether the games are at home or on the road, the Irish cover the nation. They are also the only team with a national television contract. So while your Top 10 team may occasionally make an appearance on national TV, the Irish are on every weekend.

    A few years back, I was lucky enough to attend a USC-Notre Dame game in South Bend. The atmosphere was electric but what shocked me the most was how many Notre Dame fans weren't even alums-and how many more came to South Bend with no tickets and no intention of entering the stadium. That's what the mystique has created: millions of fans with no connection to the school-that's America's Team. USC has a loyal fan base, as does Alabama, Texas and so many others. But can those schools boast that there are fans around the country with absolutely no connection to the school? They don't live nearby, didn't attend school there, have no family connections yet still root hard for the University?

    Notre Dame is just one of hundreds of great college football experiences every Saturday. It just so happens that all eyes turn to South Bend, especially when the Irish are winning. Which is why Saturday's match-up between USC and Notre Dame is bigger than a Top 10 showdown. Think Tennessee-Georgia got this much hype?

    Move over, Dallas Cowboys, the Irish are in town.

    USC.  Surfing. The Shopping Mall. Skateboarding. Plastic surgery. These things weren't invented in Southern California. But the region has put its own unique spin on them and now they all seem to be proprietarily associated with the culture of the area.

    Likewise, Southern California (as in the University) cannot say it invented the term "America's Team," but you could say it has adopted the moniker now.

    Yes, USC has become the "It" team in college football. The Trojans are first on the Saturday evening highlights, first in the polls and first in the college football media universe. Hell, I bet Us Magazine has USC under the "in" side of their yearly In-Out list.

    Yeah, I'll say it, so much for the East Coast bias.

    Here are a few reasons why the Trojans have become such a hot commodity in college football circles:

    A Decade of Dominance
    The first thing that will give a program a popularity kick is simply winning. And USC is doing that with a 47-9 mark since 2001. It's still early, but it looks like the Trojans are starting to put their stamp on this decade, like Minnesota of the 30s, Oklahoma of the 50s, Miami of the 80s and Nebraska of the 90s.

    It's the simple formula of success breeds success. And if the Trojans turn the trick of winning three straight national titles, their place in modern college football history will certainly be secure. In this day and age of scholarship limitations and parity, that's an amazing accomplishment.

    The Hollywood Influence
    The USC campus is just a handful of blocks south of the Hollywood sign itself. So under the glitz and glamour of Hollywood sits a national power playing an exciting brand of football in the shadow of the entertainment capital of the world. That lifts the profile and perception of this team even more. With its fastbreak style and score-at-will reputation, they are the new "Showtime."

    The '05 Trojans have a cast of characters that everybody wants to emulate. A quarterback with the dimples in his smile and a Heisman in his pocket.

    An undersized, electrifying playmaker that graces the highlight reel after every game.

    A bruising brahma bull of a back that gets the tough yards when the team needs them most.

    The biggest role is saved for a quirky, unconventional coach who was rejected by the pros but has worked magic in the college game after pulling this sleeping program up by its bootstraps to be dominant. I'm just wondering if Gene Hackman is going to play Coach Carroll in the movie version?

    Everyone Loves a Winner
    One thing America loves is a when the bandwagon comes around. In the words of the The Gap Band, everybody all aboard! Living out here in SoCal, I've noticed the growing legion of USC fans in my own hometown.

    That's what two national titles will do. I mean, don't you think that 55-19 walloping of Oklahoma in the national championship game turned some kids minds into who their favorite team is? Oh sure. Who wants to go to school and get picked on because your favorite team is 3-3 Michigan or 2-3 Clemson. The new favorite of every school kid who hates the bully's wrath is now USC. Simply because the Trojans win. I've got friends that are in their 40s now who chose their favorite teams that way. Guess what? They're still Dallas Cowboys and Pittsburgh Steeler fans today. Frauds.

    Stealing Coaches is the Sincerest Form of Flattery
    USC's coaching staff has been raided in the last few years. Assistants like Ed Orgeron (Ole Miss) and Nick Holt (Idaho) have gone on to be head coaches and the now famous Norm Chow has taken his offensive wizardry to the NFL. Everybody wants a piece of the SC success pie.

    Even this week's opponent, Notre Dame, has taken a page from the Trojan philosophy and hired a pro football guru to turn its fortunes around. Charlie Weis seems to be doing the job as the Irish had hoped. So it's a pretty good formula.

    America's Team? Yes, this year, it's Southern California again. And if old off-beat Pete keeps things going as they are, this nickname will last longer than the Cowboys did.

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