SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) Quarterback DeShone Kizer says Notre Dame players are remembering the pain they felt two years when they were embarrassed in a 49-14 loss to rival Southern California as the Fighting Irish prepare to finish a scuffling season on the road against the 12th-ranked Trojans.
''Coach, I remember, challenged us after that game to remember that feeling and every time we play against USC to try to bring that and allow that to fuel us,'' Kizer said. ''That feeling is still there. It fueled me last year and it will fuel me this year.''
The game against the Trojans (8-3), who have won seven straight after a 1-3 start, could be Kizer's last with Notre Dame (4-7). He is being projected by many to be a first-round draft pick in the NFL, with some saying he could be a top-five pick.
The 6-foot-4, 230-pound junior, who has two years of eligibility left, wasn't in reflective mood Tuesday when talking to reporters, declining to speculate about his future. But after a 34-31 loss to Virginia Tech on Saturday that ensured Notre Dame's first losing season since Brian Kelly became coach in 2010, Kizer spent time on the field after the game with his parents and outgoing seniors taking in the scene with their families. Kizer, who completed just 3 of 15 passes for 36 yards in the second half against the Hokies, said he had done the same thing last year as well.
''I think it's awesome to soak in the moment,'' Kizer said. ''That was our last game (at home) for the 2016 team and I think that it was an awesome opportunity to take it all in with my family. The ups and downs.''
Kizer has said he will make his decision after talking with his family when the season ends on Saturday. He talked two weeks ago about competing with Malik Zaire, whom he beat out this year for the starter's job, and sophomore Brandon Wimbush, who redshirted this season, to be the starter next season, although many expect Zaire to switch to another school for his final year of eligibility after graduating from Notre Dame.
Kizer was frank when talking to reporters after the loss to Virginia Tech about this season's disappointments, with all seven losses being by eight points or less, three of those after leading by 10 points or more.
''I think that I did a good job of avoiding all your guys' questions through all the other losses and at this point, what else am I supposed to say?'' he said. ''It's just unfortunate this is how the season has gone. I do believe that in every game we played, we had an opportunity to win. We beat ourselves, in a sense, from stupid penalties, stupid decisions on reads. I think that, once again, every opportunity that we have been out there, we have had a chance to win the game and for us to come up short by an average of something around five points on all those games, is very frustrating.''
Kizer said the announcement Tuesday by the NCAA that it was ordering Notre Dame to vacate 21 wins from the 2012 and 2013 seasons, which the school said it will appeal, will have no effect on the team as they prepare to play the Trojans.
''All we have in front of us is USC. Whatever comes from the past is not going to affect how we go about beating USC,'' he said.
Kizer heads into the game against the Trojans with a 12-10 record as a starter after winning eight of his first nine starts. He burst on the scene when he rallied the Irish to a come-from-behind win over Virginia when he threw a 39-yard touchdown pass to Will Fuller with 12 seconds left after Zaire sustained a broken ankle.
He describes this year as a learning season.
''It's easy to lead on top. It's difficult to lead when you're not on top,'' Kizer said. ''I think that as a quarterback who has seen both sides of this in two seasons here that personally I have tried my hardest to maintain who I am and the identity that I have as a leader, and it's been tested on both sides.
''I think that moving forward I have to focus on maintaining that same style of leadership, being the same guy every day, and doing whatever it takes to lead an offense to a successful game and get as many wins as we can,'' he said.
Whether that will be with the Irish or an NFL team remains to be seen.
More AP college football: www.collegefootball.ap.org and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25.