By TOM COYNE
AP Sports Writer
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis is looking for believers.
He's not looking for believers among Fighting Irish fans, many of whom were jumping off his bandwagon long before last week's shocking 24-23 defeat to eight-loss Syracuse, or in Vegas, where oddsmakers have made Notre Dame 29 1/2-point underdogs to No. 5 USC -- the most an opponent has been favored over Notre Dame in recent history.
Weis and his assistants are looking for believers in the Irish locker room.
"That's the number one thing on my list that we're talking about today and that we addressed yesterday, making sure you have players believing they can win," Weis said. "Because if not, the game is over before you even start."
Linebacker Maurice Crum Jr., the defensive captain, said he'll be watching as well.
"I'm pretty sure the coaches and the leaders on this team are going to make sure that the message is clear. And for guys who don't get it, we're going to have a problem," Crum said.
Weis said he has a simple solution for nonbelievers. They will stay in South Bend.
Weis, who has been pushing players to play with more emotion all season, said he has been disappointed in the enthusiasm some players have shown. Asked how to fix that, Weis replied: "You play different guys."
Could that mean some regulars might not be playing against USC?
"We'll see by the end of the week. But they all know that that's a possibility," Weis said.
To help sway any of those who might have a bit of doubt, Weis plans to remind his team that last year Pittsburgh had a 4-7 record when it upset rival West Virginia, which was 10-1 and ranked No. 2 at the time. The 13-9 loss cost the Mountaineers a trip to the Bowl Championship Series title game. West Virginia was favored by four touchdowns in that game.
"It was supposed to not even be close. ... The next thing you know, Pittsburgh wins the game," Weis said.
It hasn't been close for the Irish (6-5) in recent years against USC. The Trojans (9-1) have beaten Notre Dame six straight since the Irish handed USC coach Pete Carroll his most lopsided defeat, a 27-16 loss in 2001 when Bob Davie was coaching the Irish.
The Trojans have since won three straight by 31 against Tyrone Willingham coached teams, escaped with a 34-31 win in Weis' first season, then beat the Irish 44-24 and 38-0 the past two seasons. That's an average margin of victory of 25.6 points. That's not much of a rivalry.
But Weis was quick to point out that the Irish beat USC 11 straight times from 1983-1993.
"When you play year in and year out, there are periods where one team gets the best of the other. But, you know, at the end of the day, it usually ends up settling out," he said.
The Irish lead the series 42-32-5.
Weis believes one of the reasons the 2005 game was so close was that the Irish upperclassman weren't awed by USC even though the Trojans had Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush. Weis wants his team to take the same approach this week.
"If you're team has an awe factor of the team they're going against, then you have no chance," he said. "I'll tell you one thing, I'll be shocked this week if our team goes in there with an awe factor."