Notre Dame always plays a tough schedule, but that’s especially true in 2023.

The Fighting Irish play at least 3 games vs. College Football Playoff hopefuls: Ohio State, USC and Clemson. On Thursday morning, ESPN’s Adam Rittenberg broke down why the USC contest is the “season-defining game” for Notre Dame.

Here’s the analysis from Rittenberg:

The debate here is between two huge home games: Ohio State (Sept. 23) or USC (Oct. 14). Notre Dame coach Marcus Freeman lost to both teams in his first season at the helm, and certainly could use another signature home win after last year’s surprise shellacking of Clemson — a team that Notre Dame visits Nov. 4. Ultimately, the USC game should shape Notre Dame’s season a bit more because it’s more winnable than Ohio State and against the school’s top rival. USC is clearly vulnerable on defense and will offer an opportunity for quarterback Sam Hartman and the Notre Dame offense, under the direction of new playcaller Gerad Parker, to flex a bit. Freeman’s defense also gets a tremendous test against Heisman Trophy winner Caleb Williams and the USC offense. The Irish haven’t lost to the Trojans at home since 2011, and it’s important for Freeman to show he can win in this series, especially with USC on the rise again.

USC will be a tough matchup for the Irish. The Trojans return Heisman Trophy winner Caleb Williams and several other key pieces. They also brought in a star-studded group of transfers and freshmen in the class of 2023.

However, Notre Dame’s offense should be a good matchup for USC’s defense. The Irish added quarterback Sam Hartman to the mix this offseason as they look to energize their passing game. The Trojans struggled mightily on defense last season, but Notre Dame was unable to take advantage in a head-to-head matchup.

Notre Dame will host USC this season on Oct. 14.