LOS ANGELES - Matt Leinart made a strong pitch for the Heisman Trophy, and Southern California overcame a sluggish start to move within a 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 Trojans 41-10 over Notre Dame.
The win was USC's 20th straight and 21st in a row at Los Angeles Coliseum - a 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 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 next weekend in their regular-season finale, they will almost surely secure a spot in the Orange Bowl for the BCS title.
Pete Carroll has a chance to become the first coach to guide the Trojans to victories over both the Irish and Bruins - USC's biggest rivals - in three straight seasons.
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 voters in a tightly packed Heisman race.
USC was outplayed by the Fighting Irish for about a quarter Saturday night.
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 without being intercepted. He has thrown two or more touchdowns in 22 of his 24 starts 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.
With a light rain falling, Notre Dame stunned the Trojans and a sellout crowd of 92,611 by moving 92 yards on 13 plays the first time it had the ball for a 7-0 lead. Brady Quinn capped the Irish's longest drive of the season by throwing a 1-yard pass to Billy Palmer on fourth down.
USC's Ryan Killeen kicked a 39-yard field goal late in the opening quarter, but the Irish responded by moving 73 yards for a 28-yard field goal by D.J. Fitzpatrick, making it 10-3.
Then the game turned. Notre Dame had trouble moving the ball, and USC couldn't be stopped, scoring on six of its next seven possessions. The only time the Trojans didn't score during that time was late in the first half, when they ran out the clock.
Quinn completed 15-of-29 for 105 yards. Ryan Grant led the Irish in rushing with 94 yards on 15 carries.