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    Following Flynt - What To Watch for Against USC

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    5740826.jpeg Fighting Irish Digital Media intern Josh Flynt ('11) continues to provide the inside scoop on the Notre Dame football program. Here is his take on what to watch for during Saturday's game against USC ...

    Touchdown Timmy Returns: Before he was Mr. Raider, Tim Brown was one of the most accomplished receivers in Notre Dame history. The 1987 Heisman Trophy winner will be this week's pep rally speaker. During that season, Brown returned two consecutive punts for touchdowns against Michigan State in a 31-8 night game victory at Notre Dame Stadium.

    Following the pep rally at Irish Green there will also be a fireworks show. In addition, the Irish hockey team hosts RPI in the first ever game in Compton Family Ice Arena, and the men's and women's basketball teams will hold Irish Madness at Purcell Pavilion. The event will feature ESPN college basketball analyst (and Notre Dame fan) Dick Vitale and current and former players from both teams. There will be team scrimmages and competitions, as well as fan contests throughout the night.

    A New Gold Standard: One of the greatest and most recognizable symbols of Notre Dame football for the past several decades has been the gold helmet. In recent years however, that gold seemed to have lost some of its luster. Determined to make a change that would better represent the color of the Golden Dome, athletic director Jack Swarbrick asked head football equipment manager Ryan Grooms to find a better fit.

    The result is a new gold helmet courtesy of Hydro Graphics Inc. Unveiled Wednesday on UND.com and the Notre Dame Athletics Facebook page, these helmets will make their debut on Saturday night. They will shine more brightly than those of the past and provide the Irish with a more consistent color from week to week.

    In general, it seems that the new helmets have been met with positive feedback. The photos from University photographer Matt Cashore are great, but I had a chance to see the helmets in person earlier this week and I think people will be even more impressed with them when the Irish take the field.

    Receiver Battle: They won't be lining up against one another, but Saturday's game features an interesting matchup between two of the nation's most prolific receivers - USC's Robert Woods and Notre Dame's Michael Floyd. Woods is ranked fourth in the country in receiving yards per game (130.5) while Floyd is 11th in that same category. Other than statistics, these receivers might not have much in common. Floyd is a 6-foot-3, 224-pound. senior from Minnesota, while Woods, a sophomore from California is 6-foot-1 and weighs 180 pounds, but they are clearly among the nation's elite. At the end of the day, a win is probably the only thing that will matter to either of these receivers, but Floyd and Woods each have big-play capability and could put on an interesting show in the battle for wideout supremacy.

    Continuing the Streak: Notre Dame comes into the showdown with USC having won four straight games since starting the year with two tough losses. A win on Saturday would almost certainly vault the Irish back into the top 25, poised to continue their run and set up a pivotal late November game at Stanford. No one from the Notre Dame football program will look past Navy, but if the Irish get a win this week, they should be favored in all of their remaining games until meeting Heisman hopeful Andrew Luck and his unbeaten Cardinal squad. The Irish will continue to take the season one week at a time, but many consider USC to be the biggest hurdle separating Notre Dame from having a 9-2 record approaching the final game of the year.

    In addition, after enduring a difficult eight-year losing stretch against the Trojans from 2002-09, Notre Dame has a chance to start a streak of its own in the bitter rivalry. The Irish won in dramatic fashion at the Los Angeles Coliseum last season when Robert Hughes ran for a late touchdown and Harrison Smith capped the victory with an interception near the goal line.

    Turn Up The Lights In Here, Baby: For just the eighth time in Notre Dame Stadium history, and the first in 21 years, the Irish will host a night game. In 1990, top-ranked Notre Dame opened the season with a night victory over No. 4 Michigan. Since then, many games have ended at night, but Saturday will be the first time since before many of the current Irish players were even born, that lights will be on from the opening kickoff.

    Between a meeting against the team's biggest rival, the importance of this game for Notre Dame's BCS aspirations, and the night atmosphere, Saturday's stadium environment is expected to be unlike any we have seen in several years. No one should discount the emotion and energy of Saturday's game simply because neither team is ranked.

    At the same time, the Irish are keeping this game in perspective. "If we beat USC and don't beat Navy, it doesn't mean much," Kelly said in Tuesday's press conference.

    In recent weeks, the stadium atmosphere debate has come to the forefront, especially after Swarbrick spoke with students last week in the dining halls. As a recent graduate, I have no doubt that the students will come out in full force on Saturday night. From the bookstore lines to the tailgate lots, it's evident that Notre Dame fans love this University and its football team. But Swarbrick and many others are right when they say that Notre Dame Stadium is far too quiet. Saturday night is an opportunity for the Irish to make a statement on the field, but it's also a chance to do the same in the stands. Even if you are one of the most introverted people in the world, I hope this weekend is an opportunity to let loose for three to four hours and cheer like there's no tomorrow.

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