A day after Oregon and Kansas State lost to give up control of the BCS race, the Fighting Irish (.9973) moved into first place in the standings for the first time.
“Now we don’t have to answer questions about style points or politics,” Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said. “Now we have a chance to play for the national championship this week.”
Notre Dame (11-0), ranked No. 1 in both polls and by the computer ratings, needs only to beat slumping rival Southern California on Saturday in Los Angeles to earn its first trip to the BCS title game.
Alabama (.9333) and Georgia (.8763) also have rivalry games Saturday. The Crimson Tide hosts Auburn and the Bulldogs play Georgia Tech at home.
If the favorites win, the Southeastern Conference championship game will be a national semifinal of sorts, with the winner advancing to the BCS title game.
If form does not hold, and there are more upsets such as the ones that took out Oregon and Kansas State on Saturday night, there are a handful of teams that could be in the mix.
Florida (10-1) is in fourth heading into a huge game at 10th-place Florida State. The Seminoles (10-1) also will have an ACC title game to play.
Oregon (10-1) dropped to fifth and Kansas State (10-1) was sixth.
Notre Dame, which last won a national championship in 1988, has lost nine of the last 10 against USC, the lone victory coming in 2010, Kelly’s first season as coach.
But the Trojans have been a major disappointment this season, starting at No. 1 and dropping to 7-4 after losing Saturday to UCLA. USC Coach Lane Kiffin announced on Sunday that quarterback Matt Barkley will be unavailable for the conclusion of the regular season. He was hurt in Sunday’s loss against rival UCLA.
If Notre Dame loses, it could leave a muddle of one-loss teams vying for a spot in the BCS title game, even opening up the possibility of a second consecutive all-SEC national championship game.