Matt Leinart made a strong pitch for the Heisman Trophy, and Southern California overcame a sluggish start to move within one win of a perfect regular season.
Leinart passed for a career-high 400 yards and a school record-tying five touchdowns Saturday night, leading the top-ranked Trojans to a 41-10 victory over Notre Dame.
The win was USC's 20th straight and 21st in a row at the Los Angeles Coliseum -- a new school record. The Trojans haven't lost at home since being beaten by Stanford, 21-16, on Sept. 29, 2001. That team was coached by current Notre Dame coach Tyrone Willingham.
The victory gave the Trojans (11-0) their best start since 1972, when they won the national championship with a 12-0 record.
More important, USC's 34th win in 37 games since the start of the 2002 season kept its current national title hopes alive.
Should the Trojans beat UCLA (6-4) next weekend in their regular-season finale, they will almost surely secure a spot in the Orange Bowl for the Bowl Championship Series title.
Pete Carroll has a chance to become the first coach to guide the Trojans to wins over both the Irish and Bruins -- USC's biggest rivals -- in three straight seasons.
Notre Dame (6-5) leads the series, 42-29-5, and had a 15-3-1 record against the Trojans from 1983-2001. But USC has dominated the Irish the last three games, winning each by 31 points.
The Trojans beat the Irish in each of the past two years thanks mainly to terrific passing performances by Carson Palmer and Leinart, who threw for 425 and 351 yards, respectively.
Palmer's big day was the capper in a Heisman Trophy-winning season. Leinart has one more opportunity to influence the voters in a tightly packed Heisman race.
USC was outplayed by the Fighting Irish for about a quarter.
Notre Dame gained 165 yards and scored 10 points on its first two possessions. The Irish were blanked and picked up 135 yards after that.
Leinart, a junior, completed 24 of 34 passes without being intercepted. He has thrown two or more touchdown passes in 22 of his 24 starts at USC and three or more 12 times. He threw for five TDs for the second time, tying the school record set by Rodney Peete and tied by Palmer.
Leinart has 66 touchdown passes in his career including 28 this season with only five interceptions.