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COLLEGE FOOTBALL REPORT

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He will be sitting in a sports pub somewhere near his winter home in Florida, a place where he can lean back, look up and take in the biggest rivalry of them all: Notre Dame versus Southern California.

And while his gaze will be drawn to Trojans quarterback Carson Palmer's throws and Irish linebacker Courtney Watson's hits, his mind will drift backward.

Today's game (8 p.m., Ch. 7), No. 6 USC (9-2) versus No. 7 Notre Dame (10-1) at Los Angeles' Memorial Coliseum, will be big.

But as the old coach watches the present, he will think of the past, when the game meant more.

A Bowl Championship Series berth could be on the line today when the Trojans and the Irish meet, but in Ara Parseghian's day you didn't need acronyms and initials to encapsulate the importance of Notre Dame-USC.

Eleven times Parseghian led his Irish against USC. Nine of those 11 games had national championship implications for one team or the other.

Notre Dame won two national titles in Parseghian's tenure from 1964 to 1974. USC won three. Parseghian's record was 95-17-4 in his 11 Notre Dame seasons, but he went 3-6-2 against the Trojans.

"I remember virtually everything about every loss," Parsegian said.

In 1964, his first year at Notre Dame, Parseghian achieved a Tyrone Willingham-like turnaround, transforming a 2-7 team into a 9-0 squad that headed for Los Angeles ranked No. 1 in the nation.

A win over unranked USC would give the Irish their first national championship since 1949.

They were 93 seconds away from glory when their title hopes were crushed on a touchdown pass that never should have counted.

On fourth down with 1:33 to play, Trojans quarterback Craig Fertig threw a desperation pass to receiver Rod Sherman that went for a 15-yard touchdown when Irish defensive back Tony Carey slipped. Despite trailing by 17-0 at halftime, USC won, 20-17.

Even now, 38 years after the final gun sounded on that game, Parseghian's memories remain sharp.

On the play prior to the TD, "Alan Page grabbed Craig Fertig and had both his arms around him, at the chest level, where Fertig's arms were trapped so he had the ball right down where the belly button would be," Parseghian recalled.

His voice rose with his indignation. "And Alan Page is getting ready to throw him. Fertig flips the ball, and it should have been a fumble or it should have been grounding of the ball. In other words, we should have gotten the ball, or it should have been moved back 15 yards."

Fertig doesn't dispute any of it.

"There's a great acting job," Fertig said of the incomplete-pass ruling. "We were very fortunate to get another down. And I know (Parseghian) is still mad at me about that one."

In other televised games today, Wake Forest is at No. 25 Maryland (noon, ESPN); No. 1 Miami at Syracuse (1 p.m., Ch. 7); Bayou Classic: Grambling vs. Southern, from New Orleans (2 p.m., Ch. 2); Georgia Tech at No. 5 Georgia (3:30 p.m., Ch. 4); Virginia at No. 22 Virginia Tech (3:30 p.m., ESPN); Ball St. at Marshall (4:30 p.m., ESPN2); and No. 14 Alabama at Hawaii (7:45 p.m., ESPN).

Top 25

They used to play each year with a chance for a national championship at stake. This time, they play simply to earn a month of peace and quiet.

A meaningless game between Florida and Florida State? Hardly.

Between them, they have seven losses, two coaches feeling the heat, and a handful of touchy quarterback problems.

Today's winner probably will get a well-deserved break from all the negativity. The loser surely will be subjected to griping for a month.

As they prepare for 23rd-ranked Florida State (8-4), the 15th-ranked Gators (8-3) are still in line for a 10-win season. They are on a four-game winning streak.

Beat Florida State, and all could still be forgiven in the leadup to Florida's appearance in either the Capital One or Outback Bowl.

In other games today involving teams ranked in the Associated Press Top 25, No. 3 Oklahoma is at Oklahoma State; UNLV at No. 16 Colorado State; and No. 24 West Virginia at No. 17 Pittsburgh.

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