The BIG Irish Dance?

For Te'o a chance at the BCS National Championship would be the climax of an impressive Heisman-like performance in 2013
© Jonathan Daniel (Cover - Jonathan Daniel)

Carlos Pineda | Staff Writer

Notre Dame will be playing for the national championship for the first time since 1988.

The last unbeaten team in the country, the Fighting Irish has all but secured a berth in the 2013 Discover BCS National Championship Game by virtue of a 22-13 win over rival USC on Saturday night in their final game of the season.

Notre Dame (12-0) currently sits atop the latest BCS Standings, ahead of Alabama, Georgia, Florida and Oregon.

The winner of Saturday's SEC title game between the Crimson Tide and the Bulldogs will likely face Notre Dame in South Florida on Jan. 7.

It's been a long climb for the Irish, who started the season unranked in the AP Top 25 and 24th in the USA Today Coaches' Poll.

With a 4-0 record against Top 25 opponents, Notre Dame's relentless defense has unquestionably been the heart and soul of the team this season. The defense is led by linebacker and Heisman hopeful Manti Te'o, who has a team-high 103 tackles and seven interceptions. Ranked sixth in total defense, the Irish have allowed only 10.33 points per game, with only Alabama ranking higher.

Despite its unblemished record, it hasn't come without some drama. Notre Dame escaped defeat several times this season, including wins against Purdue, Stanford (overtime) and Pittsburgh (triple overtime).

"We had a dream," Te'o said after Saturday's win, "and we put in the work to make sure that dream comes true."

Holding a nine-point lead against the Trojans late in the fourth quarter, the defense held off a five-play, goal-line stand to help secure its perfect regular season.

Offensively, quarterback Everett Golson has passed for 2,135 yards and 11 touchdowns, while rushing for 305 yards and five touchdowns. Running backs Theo Riddick, Cierre Wood and George Atkinson III have combined to rush for 1,981 yards and 14 touchdowns.

Two weeks ago, Notre Dame stood behind Kansas State and Oregon in the BCS Standings, but losses by the Wildcats and the Ducks coupled with a win by the Irish catapulted them to the top of the BCS Standings for the time in program history.

This marks the Irish's first BCS Bowl game since the 2006 season — a loss to LSU in the Sugar Bowl. It is also the team's first bowl appearance in Miami since the 1996 Orange Bowl.

The likely opponent for the Irish will come from the SEC. Notre Dame will try to end the SEC's six-game winning streak in the BCS National Championship Game.

"The way it's set up, only two teams can play for a national championship." coach Brian Kelly said. "It feels great that you have that opportunity."


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