LOS ANGELES - After decades away, Notre Dame is back on top of college football - unmatched in the rankings, unblemished in the standings and unequivocally ready for a chance to end a national-championship drought that stands at 24 years.
"This is where you want to be when you go to Notre Dame," linebacker Manti Te'o said Saturday after the Fighting Irish beat Southern California 22-13 to complete their first unbeaten regular season since 1988, also the last championship year for the school.
The win at the Coliseum capped a 12-0 run that included a historic level of defensive dominance. The Notre Dame defense has allowed just nine touchdowns all season.
Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te‘o had not yet been born the last time the Fighting Irish won a national championship.
"You just put the ball down in front of us, and if there's time on the clock, we're never going to give up," defensive end Kapron Lewis-Moore said.
The Irish are No. 1 in The Associated Press poll released Sunday and atop the Bowl Championship Series standings, and have six weeks to prepare for the title game, scheduled for Jan. 7 in Miami. They will almost certainly face the winner of Saturday's Southeastern Conference championship game between Georgia and Alabama.
The Crimson Tide, who won their second national title in three years last season, have the No. 2 spots in this week's poll and BCS standings, while the Bulldogs are third in both.
|AP TOP 25|
|1. Notre Dame (60)||12-0||1,500||1|
|4. Ohio St.||12-0||1,294||4|
|7. Kansas St.||10-1||1,079||7|
|10. Texas A&M||10-2||1,043||9|
|11. South Carolina||10-2||916||13|
|13. Florida St.||10-2||764||10|
|16. Oregon St.||8-3||528||16|
|18. Kent St.||11-1||355||23|
|19. N. Illinois||11-1||349||24|
|20. Utah St.||10-2||274||25|
|24. Oklahoma St.||7-4||174||22|
|25. Boise St.||9-2||145||—|
|Others receiving votes—San Jose St. 78, Louisville 73, TCU 67, Penn St. 61, Rutgers 50, Vanderbilt 48, San Diego St. 15, Fresno St. 12, Southern Cal 7, Arkansas St. 5, Arizona 4, Cincinnati 3, Ball St. 1, Mississippi St. 1, North Carolina 1.|
|1. Notre Dame||0.9979||1|
|6. Kansas St.||0.7735||6|
|9. Texas A&M||0.6861||9|
|10. South Carolina||0.6689||12|
|13. Florida St.||0.4645||10|
|15. Oregon St.||0.3790||15|
|17. Kent St.||0.2512||23|
|20. Boise St.||0.2030||22|
|21. N. Illinois||0.1936||—|
|23. Oklahoma St.||0.1646||21|
|24. Utah St.||0.1171||—|
|25. San Jose St.||0.0974||—|
Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly is in his third year in South Bend after taking over a team that was coming off a 6-6 season.
"When you go in that locker room and are around the guys I'm around, you're not surprised," Kelly said. "The commitment they've made - they've done everything I've asked them to do. It doesn't surprise me anymore."
Te'o, who turns 22 in January, hadn't been born the last time the Irish won a national title. The Punahou School graduate nevertheless knows the date of the last championship by heart, thanks to the sign at the end of the tunnel at Notre Dame Stadium from which the home team enters the field.
"I'm just hoping that we can add our year to it," Te'o said. "But it's going to take a lot of work."