FORT WAYNE – Notre Dame will only have to watch one scoreboard this weekend – its own.
The Irish moved to No. 1 in the BCS standings Sunday after they improved to 11-0 for the first time since 1993 and got the help they needed with last week’s top two teams – Kansas State and Oregon – losing Saturday.
Coach Brian Kelly said during his Sunday teleconference that after Notre Dame’s 38-0 thrashing of Wake forest (5-6) he watched most of Kansas State’s 52-24 loss to Baylor then switched to Stanford’s 17-14 overtime win over Oregon.
We filled the theater room, so we probably had about 12 to 15 people cheering quite loudly, Kelly said.
When the noise settled, the Irish found themselves just a victory at USC away from reaching the national championship game. Notre Dame closes the regular season at USC (7-4), a 38-28 loser to UCLA last Saturday.
Now we don’t have to answer the questions about style points or politics or anything like that, Kelly said. We get a chance to play for the national championship, provided we win this week.
Notre Dame will not have to face USC quarterback Matt Barkley, who sprained his right shoulder against UCLA.
Trojans coach Lane Kiffen announced Sunday that Max Wittek will start in Barkley’s place.
Kelly said USC has plenty of offensive weapons and that it doesn’t matter the Wittek will be making his first career start.
(Receivers Marqise) Lee and (Robert) Woods and the running back situation, they’ve got two great backs (Silas Redd and Curtis McNeal). We’re going to have to defend all of those players, not just one, Kelly said.
The offense is still going to be about getting the ball to their playmakers.
Notre Dame, which is No. 1 in the BCS for the first time ever, is .0064 percentage points (.9973-.9333) in front of No. 2 Alabama (10-1).
Georgia (10-1) is No. 3 and Florida and Oregon, which was No. 2 last week, round out the top five. Kansas State fell from No. 1 in the BCS to No. 6.
The Irish also moved to No. 1 in the Associated Press Top 25 and USA Today coaches poll Sunday.
The coaches poll factors into the BCS standings.
Notre Dame, which was last No. 1 in the AP poll in 1993, received all 60 AP first-place votes, and it got 56 of 59 first-place votes in the coaches poll.
Alabama is No. 2 in both polls, marking the first time the Irish and Crimson Tide are in the top two spots since 1967.
It’s like being selected for the playoffs, Kelly said. Now you know you’re in if you take care of business, and you’ve got to win each week.
With one week left to go in their regular season, Kelly said he is happy with how his players reacted to being the No. 1 team in the nation.
Before his teleconference Sunday, Kelly said he was with the players in the training room and there was little discussion about where the Irish were in the polls.
They all, to a man, know that it doesn’t mean much if you’re No.1 for just three or four days, Kelly said.
So they understand the importance of the USC game. I was happy to see that they had that kind of maturity to know that it’s all about how we play against USC.