Ranking Brian Kelly's seven wins over USC during his time as Notre Dame coach

Tom Noie
ND Insider
Brian Kelly knows well what beating USC means when you're the head coach at Notre Dame.

SOUTH BEND – Brian Kelly wasn’t going there. At least, not publicly. 

Late in his Monday meeting with the media, the Notre Dame head football coach was asked if any of his wins – seven, against only three losses – over rival Southern California meant a little more to him heading into Saturday’s night game at Notre Dame Stadium against, naturally, USC. 

Maybe the one in 2012? Or the one in 2018? Both wins – in Los Angeles – punched Notre Dame’s postseason ticket plans and put the Irish a step closer to winning that elusive national championship. Those sure were special, Kelly agreed, but the one that would mean the most? 

The next one. 

Thanks, Coach. 

Here are Kelly’s seven wins over USC ranked from seventh (just OK) to first (really OK). Where each of these happened is easy – if the win was in October, it was in Indiana. If it was in November, it was in California. 

Notre Dame quarterback DeShone Kizer did a little of everything in the 2015 victory over USC.

7. Notre Dame 41, USC 31 

(Oct. 17, 2015) 

Trialing 31-24 in the second half, Notre Dame erupted for 17 unanswered points, including scoring drives of 90 and 91 yards in the fourth quarter to beat USC under interim coach Clay Helton, who took over for the recently-fired Steve Sarkisian. Quarterback DeShone Kizer completed 15 of 24 for 227 yards and two scores while C.J. Prosise ran for 143 yards and two scores. 

Notre Dame running back Tony Jones tallied a career high 176 rushing yards in the 2019 win over USC.

6. Notre Dame 30, USC 27 

(Oct. 12, 2019) 

Tony Jones Jr., ran for a career high 176 yards and linebacker Asmar Bilal tallied a career best 11 tackles to lead the ninth-ranked Irish, who scored 17 points in the second quarter to take control. Jonathan Doerer kicked three field goals, including a 52-yarder. This one was over early as USC didn’t score until late in the third quarter. 

Oddly, it was the last meeting between the teams before Saturday’s rivalry renewal (thanks, coronavirus). 

Running back Josh Adams racked up 191 yards and three touchdowns when Notre Dame beat USC in 2017.

5. Notre Dame 49, USC 14 

(Oct. 21, 2017) 

It was quintessential Notre Dame football under the Northern Indiana lights as Josh Adams ran for 191 yards and three scores on 19 carries while the Irish tallied 377 rushing yards – the most in a game against USC since 1950. Notre Dame scored the most points against USC since the legendary green jersey game in 1977 game (49) and finished 10-3. 

Cam McDaniel ran for 92 yards as Notre Dame was able to grind out a 14-10 victory over USC in 2013

4. Notre Dame 14, USC 10 

(Oct. 19, 2013) 

Not all of these matchups have been Picassos, and Kelly’s first home win over Troy certainly wasn’t with Ed Orgeron as the interim coach. This was the ultimate grinder. The Irish tallied only 47 total yards in the second half while the Trojans had 121. Irish back Cam McDaniel ran for 92 yards on 18 carries and Tommy Rees completed 14 of 21 for 166 yards and two touchdowns. It was the first time since 2000-01 that Notre Dame registered victories over USC in back-to-back seasons. 

Robert Hughes was hard for USC to stop in Notre Dame's 2010 victory over USC - the first time Brian Kelly beat the Trojans as coach of the Irish.

3. Notre Dame 20, USC 16 

(Nov. 27, 2010) 

A first season to forget for Kelly – Notre Dame lost to Navy (neutral site) and Tulsa (home) in consecutive weeks and would finish 8-5 – was salvaged with a victory in his first trip to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Robert Hughes barreled in from five yards out with just over two minutes remaining as Notre Dame snapped an eight-game series losing streak. Kelly became the first Notre Dame coach since Lou Holtz to beat USC in his first try. Linebacker Manti Te’o said of the victory, “It’s a huge night for this program and in our lives.” 

Beating USC didn't make Notre Dame's or Kelly's season, but it offered hope. And that was big.

Linebacker Drue Tranquill celebrates after Notre Dame beat rival USC to cap a 12-0 regular season in 2018.

2. Notre Dame 24, USC 17 

(Nov. 24, 2018) 

A regular season that saw the Irish crisscross the country with games in San Diego and New York City and the Chicago area wrapped in memorable fashion in the shadows of Hollywood. Trailing 10-0 early – its largest deficit of the season – Notre Dame roared back to cap an undefeated regular season and clinch its first-ever spot in the College Football Playoff. Quarterback Ian Book threw for 352 yards and two scores while cornerback Julian Love tallied a career-high 12 tackles. Walking off the field and up through the famed Coliseum tunnel, was one big Irish celebration. If you were there, you know. 

Running back Theo Riddick ran for 146 yards in Notre Dame's memorable 2012 victory at USC to cap an undefeated regular season.

1. Notre Dame 22, USC 13 

(Nov. 24, 2012) 

This one sealed an undefeated regular season pushed Notre Dame to the brink of winning its first national championship since 1988, but we know how that story ended. Still, it was a magical night for the Irish against their rival thanks to 146 rushing yards from Theo Riddick and five field goals from Kyle Brindza. The Irish defense delivered a goal-line stand with just over two minutes remaining to seal it. “I’m still in awe,” said defensive lineman Kapron Lewis-Moore after Notre Dame finished 12-0 for the first time since ‘88. 

Follow South Bend Tribune and NDInsider columnist Tom Noie on Twitter: @tnoieNDI