Chicago Sun-Times
with Mark Lazerus

November 2012 Archives

Notre Dame's Manti Te'o ready to hit the awards circuit

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Manti Te'o will be gone all next week, traveling around the country and likely picking up an armful of trophies. He's likely to be named a Heisman Trophy finalist next week, and he's already a finalist for the Maxwell, Walter Camp, Bednarik, Nagursku, Lombardi, Butkus, Lott IMPACT and Senior CLASS awards.

Te'o doesn't even know the itinerary, but ever the dutiful linebacker, he'll stick to his assignments.

"I just go where I'm told," he said on Thursday after accepting a sportsmanship award on campus from the Awards and Recognition Association.

Of course, Te'o also is still preparing for the BCS national championship game on Jan. 7, against the winner of Saturday's SEC Championship between Alabama and Georgia. So he did have one request as he and coach Brian Kelly complete the awards circuit.

"I asked Coach Kelly to make sure there's a gym in whatever place we stay, so when I come back, I'm not a D-lineman," Te'o said.

Te'o's primary competition for the Heisman is Texas A&M record-setting freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel, A.K.A. Johnny Football. Kansas State's Collin Klein is another contender, and he has one more chance to make his case Saturday against Texas. Te'o hasn't seen Klein play, but was impressed by Manziel, the current odds-on favorite to win college football's greatest individual honor.

"Dynamic player, a really, really good playmaker," Te'o said of Manziel. "He always tends to make something out of nothing, and that's definitely somebody that's of Heisman material. I'm a really big fan."

As for his own campaign, Te'o predictably deferred to his teammates.

"First and foremost, for me, it would be a great honor for my team," he said. "Without my team, I wouldn't be a Heisman candidate. If we weren't 12-0, I wouldn't be a Heisman candidate."

As for the sportsmanship award he received on Thursday, athletic director Jack Swarbrick said it was a fitting honor.

"It's hard to imagine a more deserving candidate," he said. "Pre-eminent sports brands are rare. Even rarer is an athlete that perfectly captures the essence of a sports program. Maybe a Peyton Manning in Indianapolis, a Derek Jeter in New York, a Bill Bradley at Princeton."

These are bittersweet times for Te'o. He's at the top of his sport from both a team and individual standpoint. But he's also at the end of his collegiate career. He graduates next month, and Thursday was his final day of school before finals. Following the BCS title game, he'll leave school to prepare for the NFL combine.

So while he's still lifting, and while he'll be watching the SEC title game on Saturday, his mind hasn't been on football quite as much as you might expect.

"My attention has just been on taking advantage of every day," he said. "All I've been thinking about is the time I have left here at school with my peers, with my classmates. I'll be gone all next week so today was my last week of school. It was just hard for me to know that it's come to an end, a beautiful end."

Te'o again called his decision to come back for his senior year "the best decision I ever made."

"I love Notre Dame," he said. "I love this place. This place is not a school, it's a family. It's a place you'll always be connected with and welcome the rest of your life. I wouldn't want to be anywhere else and I can't picture myself anywhere else but here, under the dome, and with my teammates and just experiencing everything. I'm definitely going to miss this place."

Veteran Notre Dame ready for Kentucky's fab freshmen

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The difference between the program-building philosophies at Kentucky and Notre Dame couldn't be more obvious. While John Calipari reloads his team with three or four of the best freshmen in the country each year, shepherding them into the NBA after one season, Mike Brey has built sustained success in South Bend by keeping a veteran lineup on the floor, by developing players over time, using a short bench, and bringing in transfers.

"The way we're set up here, we're not going to get as many of the one-and-done guys; it's just a different world," Brey said. "Not that we won't try to recruit them. We get four-year guys, sometimes we like to make them five, and, how about this, we made Scott Martin a sixth-year guy. We really broke the mold there. I don't want to be in a position going to Carrier Dome starting three freshmen, and thankfully we haven't been in the situation. That's why we've been consistent. We've always had maturity -- good juniors and seniors running the team."

So does experience outweigh elite talent? With Kentucky coming to South Bend on Thursday, the Irish sure hope so. And to a man, they pointed to the team chemistry, familiarity and brotherhood that build up over time as an advantage to having a veteran team.

"It's probably tough," Jerian Grant said of Kentucky's situation each season. "They have to come from the summer, from being the man, to everyone on the team is the man. They have all NBA guys on their team, so it's probably tough a little bit."

But even the Irish aren't sure how the experience vs. talent disparity will translate to the court.

Said Garrick Sherman: "I guess we'll see. We have a lot of experience, that'll help us out. But they have a lot of talent, too. We'll still have to be ready to play. It all depends. Everything is variable right now. I can't say we have a huge distinct advantage or they do. We'll see how it goes."

Said Martin: "We'll see on Thursday. I think experience is one thing, but I don't think you can lean too much on experience. It can help in certain situations, but other situations it doesn't mean anything."

Said Eric Atkins: "I'm really not 100 percent sure how much that's going to play (a role). Two years ago, we had an all-senior team and they got the best of us, as well. So I just think we really have to outplay them."

Martin said one undeniable advantage of being an older team is the resilience that only comes with overcoming adversity in the past.

"The familiarity and the brotherhood, the family aspect, we won't fall apart, we won't break and turn on each other," Martin said. "We'll stay tough."

And while Martin freely admitted "we're a little less athletic" during the discussion about how uber-talented Kentucky is, Grant was quick to point out that the guys on the Irish roster aren't exactly dead weight.

"They have a lot of talent on their team, but we have a bunch of talent, too," Grant said. "We have guys that can do the same things, if not even better."

Theo Riddick has been Notre Dame's power player

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As any running back would do after a 146-yard performance, Theo Riddick immediately praised his offensive line following Notre Dame's 22-13 victory over USC on Saturday night.

"Without them, there's no me," he said. "Without them, I wouldn't have seen the holes that were there to explore and take advantage of."

But the reason it was Riddick clutching the game ball in the Coliseum tunnel and not the linemen was Riddick managed to make big gains even when there were no holes to explore. His 14-yard run midway through the fourth quarter -- on which he was met by two USC defenders well behind the line of scrimmage before spinning and powering his way through for a 14-yard gain -- set up Kyle Brindza's fifth and final field goal of the night, making it a two-score game at 22-13. Riddick had four runs of at least 10 yards, and two receptions for at least 10 yards, plus a 9-yard touchdown run in the first half.

Riddick wasn't even expected to be the starter this season, not with incumbent 1,000-yard rusher Cierre Wood coming back. But Wood was suspended for the first two games, Riddick ran for 107 yards in the opener against Navy in Dublin, and he never relinquished the job. He has 880 yards and five touchdowns on 180 carries while splitting carries with Wood, who has 740 yards on 110 carries. What makes Riddick even more valuable is his receiving ability -- he played as a wideout the last two seasons because of the Irish's depth in the backfield. He has 35 catches for 364 yards and a touchdown.

"If you want to know about the Fighting Irish, you just need to look at Theo Riddick," ND coach Brian Kelly said. "Here's a guy who was a wide receiver for me the last two years. We asked him to move back to running back, and in Game 12 he manages 146 yards, (and) broke countless tackles and got us the tough yards we needed today. You just look at his jersey after the game -- there's no wonder this team has the toughness it does."

No BCS surprises: No. 1 Notre Dame will get SEC champ

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The job of the BCS standings is effectively over. The only question that remains -- who will play No. 1 Notre Dame in the national championship game on Jan. 7 in South Florida -- will be decided on the field.

The latest edition of the standings, released Sunday night, offered no surprises. Notre Dame is set at No. 1, while Alabama and Georgia remained at Nos. 2 and 3. The Crimson Tide and Bulldogs face each other on Saturday in the SEC championship game in Atlanta, with the winner essentially -- but not officially -- assured of meeting the Irish at Sun Life Stadium for the national title. There was an outside chance that Florida could have slipped ahead of Georgia, but the Gators were 0.0029 points behind the Bulldogs.

LOS ANGELES -- Manti Te'o skipped his way off the field Saturday night, buoyed by the kind of energy and confidence and fire that mere mortals may never know, shouting to any teammate within earshot the same thing, over and over: "It doesn't matter!"

A long pass to Marqise Lee and two pass interference calls had just set USC up with first-and-goal from the 1 with less than five minutes to play, just 36 inches from making it a one-score game with too much time left on the clock.

A quarterback keeper, stuffed by Kapron Lewis-Moore.

Another quarterback keeper, stuffed by Stephon Tuitt.

A run up the middle, stuffed by Matthias Farley.

An incomplete pass.

One last goal-line stand for the Irish -- their second game-deciding one, shades of overtime against Stanford. One more win for the Irish -- their 12th in as many tries. And now, following the 22-13 win over hated USC, one more chance to prove what nobody could have ever believed a few short months ago, that Notre Dame is the best team in the country.

On Jan. 7, the Irish will face the winner of next week's SEC title game between Alabama and Georgia in the BCS championship game in South Florida. And it doesn't matter whether anyone can believe it, grasp it, or fathom it.

"It doesn't matter what they do, it doesn't matter where the ball is," Te'o elaborated. "If we do our job, if we play to the best of our ability, then it really doesn't matter."

So no, it didn't matter that Everett Golson entered the season as a redshirt freshman quarterback who didn't even win the starting job until a camp-long battle with Andrew Hendrix, and whose coach didn't even trust him to run the two-minute drill against Purdue three months ago. It only mattered that Golson sliced up the USC defense early with darts and dashes, and led a brisk two-minute drill to set up one of Kyle Brindza's five field goals, a 52-yarder at the half that sent the Irish into the locker room up 16-10.

It didn't matter that tailback Theo Riddick entered the season a retrofitted receiver who only won the starting job by default when incumbent Cierre Wood was suspended for the first two games. It only mattered that Riddick was clutching the game ball in the tunnel beneath the Coliseum, having run for 146 hard yards, spinning out of tackles and powering through defenders with the same tenacity with which he clung to the job.

And it didn't matter that Te'o was expected to go to USC four years ago, not leave Hawaii for the harsh winters of Northern Indiana on a hunch and a prayer he still can't really put into words, It only mattered that Te'o ran off the field yelling, "We're going to the natty!" after making his seventh interception of the season -- bolstering his Heisman campaign, but more importantly bolstering his team's championship campaign.

"I can't believe we're going to the national championship game," Te'o said a short while later, shaking his head and smiling.

Who could? Even athletic director Jack Swarbrick -- coach Brian Kelly's most ardent believer -- admitted he never saw this coming. Nobody did.

The schedule was too difficult. The quarterback was too young. The secondary was too inexperienced. The program was fading into irrelevance, a golden dome tarnished by mediocrity and -- perhaps worst of all -- national indifference.

Yet here the Irish stand, atop the college football world, waiting for one last giant to slay, one last chance to prove once and for all that, yes, Notre Dame is back.

"It's crazy to think back to where we started in Ireland," Brindza said.

Its been a generation since Notre Dame won a national championship, 1988, before any of the current players were even born. "I wasn't even thought of yet," Riddick said.

But six weeks from now, against all odds -- thanks to Riddick and Golson and Te'o and a defensive line that just won't budge -- these Irish have a chance to be thought of forever in the annals of Notre Dame history. Yes, they barely beat Purdue. Yes, they caught a lucky break against Pittsburgh. Yes, they'll almost certainly be significant underdogs to the SEC champion on Jan. 7.

Ask Te'o what he thinks about all that. He'll tell you it just doesn't matter.

"Throughout this whole season, we didn't look at the big picture," Te'o said. "After it was over, we looked at the scoreboard and saw that we won, and it was like, 'What's next?' Oh, it's the national championship. Oh, man, I can't believe it."

Halftime update: Notre Dame 16, USC 10

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Kyle Brindza kicked the second-longest field goal in Notre Dame history as the first half ended, a 52-yard boot that put the Irish up 16-10 over USC at halftime.

If the Irish can hold on to the lead for 30 more minutes, they'll clinch a spot in the national championship game in South Florida.

Irish quarterback Everett Golson was sharp, completing 14-of-22 passes for 181 yards, but appeared to have hurt his leg while avoiding the USC rush on the last snap before Brindza's field goal. Theo Riddick, meanwhile, had a big half, with 67 rushing yards (including a 9-yard touchdown run in the first quarter) and 33 receiving yards.

USC quarterback Max Wittek, in for the injured Matt Barkley, threw incompletions on his first three passes before completing seven in a row, including a touchdown to Robert Woods. But his last pass, a 60-yard heave down the sideline, was intercepted by Notre Dame's KeiVarae Russell, setting up the last drive for Brindza's 52-yard kick. 

First-quarter update: Notre Dame 10, USC 0

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If the weight of the biggest Notre Dame game in a generation was weighing on redshirt freshman quarterback Everett Golson, he wasn't showing it.

Golson and the Irish offense marched all over USC in the first quarter of Saturday night's showdown at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, taking a commanding 10-0 lead over the Trojans and moving to within 45 minutes of the national championship game.

Golson finished the quarter 7-of-8 for 100 yards, leading two impressive drives. The Irish sprinted 62 yards five plays to open the game, but sputtered in the red zone, settling for a 27-yard Kyle Brindza field goal. On the next drive, the Irish marched 87 yards in 12 plays, capped by Theo Riddick's 9-yard touchdown run. On each of the two drives, the Irish had four plays of at least 11 yards.

In between the two long Irish drives, USC freshman quarterback Max Wittek got his chance to back up his bold talk all week. But after four runs to start the game -- and two first downs -- Wittek threw three straight incompletions, including a beautiful deep ball to Marqise Lee that traveled 60 yards in the air before Bennett Jackson broke it up in the end zone.

Wittek's second drive -- still ongoing at the quarter break -- went much better, as he completed all four of his passes. A face mask call against ND on the last one has the Trojans at the Notre Dame 11 to start the second quarter. 
Follow along with Sun-Times writers and other media members as we live-blog tonight's game.

The stakes couldn't be higher for Notre Dame

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It started a little less than a month ago, the words trickling in to the Irish vernacular shortly after the final whistle blew in their victory at Oklahoma. All of a sudden, it was no longer taboo -- or far-fetched, for that matter -- to start throwing around the term "national championship." Escaping Pitt amplified it, routing Boston College and Wake Forest ratcheted it up further, and last Saturday's Kansas State and Oregon double-whammy made it not just realistic, but probable.

Notre Dame is 60 minutes of football away from playing for a national championship. All that stands in the Irish's way is USC tonight at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. And there's no way the Irish won't be thinking about that when they take the field in an hour.

How they handle that thought, particularly against a struggling but uber-talented USC team with nothing to lose, could determine tonight's outcome, and whether the Irish head to South Florida after New Year's, or New Orleans, Phoenix or Los Angeles a week earlier.

"It's going to add pressure obviously, it's going to add pressure to everyone," Notre Dame cornerback Bennett Jackson said. "But you can't get too caught up in it. You've got to keep that in the back of your mind and play with a chip on your shoulder for that reason -- if we play the way we know we can play, this is where we could be."

Even Notre Dame's veterans have never played in a game with stakes this high. So there's no way to know for sure how they'll respond.

"Nerves, not so much," safety Zeke Motta said. "Probably with a lot more on the line, we'll probably play with a lot more passion, a lot more excitement, a lot more fun. Because in games like these where a lot's riding on the game, you've got to play to your best capabilities. I see that as a challenge. I like when I'm challenged and I don't really get too nervous about things like that anymore. I compete at a high level, and when I get down on the field, I'm confident in my preparation."

Preparation time is over. All that's left is the game -- 60 minutes for a chance to win it all.
tony_rice_lou.JPG SUN-TIMES PHOTO/TOM CRUZE We asked readers on Twitter about their favorite Notre Dame QB, players, and coach. Check out all the great answers after the jump.

USC QB Wittek guarantees victory over Notre Dame

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USC redshirt freshman quarterback Max Wittek didn't waste any time stoking the fire of the Notre Dame-USC rivalry.

"I'm going to go out there, I'm going to play within myself, within the system, and we're going to win this ballgame," Wittek told the ESPN Radio affiliate in Los Angeles.

Wittek will be making his first start in Saturday's prime time game against the top-ranked Irish, filling in for the injured Matt Barkely. Wittek has thrown nine passes in his career. Irish coach Brian Kelly, a little more experienced when it comes to dealing with the media, said he didn't know too much about Wittek, but that, "When you get a scholarship to USC, you're one of the best quarterbacks in the country."

"He's a big, strong, physical kid," Kelly added. "He's got a live arm and he certainly fits into their offensive scheme of things. He's a perfect fit for what they do."

Kelly also said the Irish won't go out of their way to change their defensive game plan just because they're facing a freshman quarterback.

"We're going to do what we do," Kelly said. "At this point, for us to go into one game and say, 'All right, we're going to do different things to confuse Max,' is really crazy. ... We're going to do what we do, because that's gotten us to that point. No big changes on our end."

Irish officially No. 1 in the BCS

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There wasn't much suspense this week when ESPN unveiled the latest BCS standings.

For one week, at least, No. 1 is clear, and it's Notre Dame.

Already named the nation's top team by the Associated Press (unanimously) and the coaches (56 of 59 first-place votes), the BCS officially anointed Notre Dame the team to beat Sunday night.

The interesting part of the standings is what followed -- how the BCS would sort out the SEC contenders. Alabama came in at No. 2, followed by Georgia at No. 3. Those rankings don't matter much, however, as the two are on a collision course to meet in the SEC championship game -- the Tide face Auburn first, while Georgia has Georgia Tech -- and the winner of that conference championship game will meet Notre Dame in the national championship game, as long as the Irish beat USC on Saturday.

Florida was slotted at No. 4, while Oregon plummeted down to No. 5 following its overtime loss to Stanford and Kansas State dropped from No. 1 to No. 6 with its blowout loss to Baylor.

The BCS Top 10:
1. Notre Dame
2. Alabama
3. Georgia
4. Florida
5. Oregon
6. Kansas State
7. LSU
8. Stanford
9. Texas A&M
10. Florida State

With his team ranked No. 1 in the nation, Brian Kelly no longer needs to play politics with the BCS voters.

Now, he can focus on playing politics with Heisman Trophy voters.

When asked Sunday afternoon about linebacker Manti Te'o's Heisman prospects, Kelly didn't equivocate.

"Well, I think he should win the Heisman Trophy, provided we continue to win," Kelly said.

Te'o, of course, has shrugged off the Heisman talk all season, saying it's an honor to be considered but that he's focused on team goals -- team goals that got a lot loftier this weekend, as the Irish are now one win over USC from the national championship game. So Kelly said he'll do the talking for his senior star.

"As it relates to Manti, he doesn't talk much about it," Kelly said. "He's not focused on those things, he's focused on the things that we all know that are important to him, and that is his team and how we play on Saturday. I'll push for him. I think he should win the Heisman. But he's not really focused on that."

Te'o had better get used to these kinds of discussions, though. Notre Dame's website now opens with a page devoted to Te'o's award-worthiness. He's being touted for the Heisman, the Maxwell Award, the Bendarik Award, the Nagurski Trophy, the Lombardi Award, the Butkus Award, the Lott Trophy and the Senior CLASS Award.

Kelly said he hasn't talked with Te'o specifically about the Heisman, but that Te'o can expect a busy December, and not just because the Irish will be preparing for a possible title game.

"The only thing we talked about is that he's going to be with me after the USC game quite a bit, because we've got a lot of banquets and awards shows to be at," Kelly said. "So the only thing that I've talked to him about is that we have a hope that we'll be in New York together in a couple of weeks." 

Swarbrick unfazed by Maryland-to-Big Ten speculation

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An report that Maryland and Rutgers are in "serious negotiations" to join the Big Ten changes nothing for Notre Dame, as far as athletic director Jack Swarbrick is concerned.

The Irish are set to join the ACC by 2015, and Maryland is currently in the ACC. Rutgers plays in the Big East.

"Unchanged," Swarbrick said Saturday night, addressing the speculation in the wake of Notre Dame's 38-0 football victory over Wake Forest. "It has absolutely zero impact. It wouldn't change anything about our decision-making process. If we were going to engage in it again, it wouldn't change anything."

Swarbrick was wary of discussing it, since there has been no official confirmation that the negotiations are taking place. But he wasn't shocked that the possibility exists. He was, however, surprised by the timing of the potential move.

"If this occurs, this particular outcome does not come as a surprise," he said, citing "a lot of conversations over the years."

When Notre Dame announced its agreement to join the ACC in all sports but football -- but to play five ACC teams in football each year, and be part of the ACC bowl package -- earlier this fall, Swarbrick said he believed the endless conference realignment would finally come to a halt.

"I guess we've all learned never to predict that," he said.

Final: Notre Dame 38, Wake Forest 0

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SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Notre Dame linebacker Dan Fox's mother raced toward her son as he burst out of the tunnel on Saturday afternoon, the two meeting at the 40-yard line for an endearing, if a little awkward, flying hip bump during pre-game Senior Day festivities. Kapron Lewis-Moore made his mother disappear in a burly bear hug. Manti Te'o -- the last one out of the tunnel to a raucous cheer from thousands of students waving plastic yellow leis over their heads -- ripped off his helmet and spiked it into the ground as he ran into his father's arms at midfield.

No, there would be no emotional letdown, no sluggish effort at home, this time around.

Notre Dame scored three touchdowns -- all by seniors -- in the first 11 minutes, and redshirt freshman quarterback Everett Golson had a career day as the Irish cruised to a 38-0 dismantling of hapless Wake Forest. Notre Dame enters the season finale at USC next Saturday at 11-0.

Golson played only 21/2 quarters, yet completed 20-of-30 passes for 346 yards and three touchdowns. Cierre Wood ripped off a 68-yard touchdown run less than two minutes into the game and finished with 150 yards on just 11 carries. T.J. Jones had six catches for 97 yards and a score, and Tyler Eifert became Notre Dame's all-time leading receiver among tight ends with six catches for 85 yards and a score.

Notre Dame outgained the Demon Deacons 430-113 in the first half alone, with Golson cracking the 300-yard mark for the first time in his career before the break.

These are the kinds of gaudy numbers that the Irish haven't been putting up all year -- the 21 points Notre Dame scored in the first quarter were more than it had scored in regulation in any home game this season -- and that could perhaps sway an on-the-fence pollster. For once, Notre Dame had true style points, not talking points about a stout defense, a tough schedule, or a gritty team spirit.

Heck, by the middle of the third quarter, Notre Dame was trotting out an offense featuring the backup quarterback, Tommy Rees, and two sets of brothers on the offensive line (Zack and Nick Martin, Mike and Jake Golic).

But as the Irish continue to chase Kansas State and Oregon for a spot in the BCS championship game, USC didn't do them any favors by suffering its fourth loss of the season on Saturday afternoon, a 38-28 defeat to UCLA, preemptively diminishing what would potentially be the exclamation point on a perfect regular season.

Oregon hosted Stanford in the prime time game, in what could be Notre Dame's best shot at getting some help.

Halftime update: Irish take 31-0 lead into locker room

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If BCS pollsters and pundits were looking for style points, Notre Dame finally offered some up on Saturday.

The Irish took a commanding 28-0 lead into halftime, with redshirt freshman quarterback Everett Golson lighting up the Demon Deacons for 317 yards and three touchdowns on 17-of-25 passing. His lone blemish was an interception in the end zone on an ill-advised throw to Robby Toma.

Three Notre Dame seniors scored on Senior Day -- Cierre Wood on a 68-yard touchdown run, Tyler Eifert on a 2-yard TD catch, and John Goodman on a 50-yard TD catch -- before Golson hit a wide-open junior T.J. Jones for a 34-yard touchdown pass after the Deacons bit on Golson's pump fake.

Wood had 104 yards on just nine carries, his third 100-yard game of the season. Jones had five catches for 84 yards, while Eifert had four catches for 69 yards. The Irish outgained the Deacons 430-113 in the half.

The Irish added a 25-yard Kyle Brindza field goal with 1:34 to go in the half. 

First-quarter update: Notre Dame 21, Wake Forest 0

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There was no sluggish start at home for Notre Dame this time. Not on Senior Day.

The Irish -- in desperate need of a big, convincing win as it tries to prove its national championship bona fides -- jumped out to a 21-0 lead on Wake Forest after one quarter. Fittingly, all three touchdowns were scored by seniors.

Less than two minutes into the game, Cierre Wood broke loose for a 68-yard touchdown run, the longest run of the season for Notre Dame. Three plays later, Irish linebacker Carlo Calabrese leveled Wake Forest tailback Josh Harris, forcing a fumble that was recovered by Zeke Motta. The Irish capitalized with a 2-yard touchdown pass from Everett Golson to senior tight end Tyler Eifert.

Notre Dame's third possession ended with a 50-yard touchdown pass from Golson to John Goodman, an injury replacement for DaVaris Daniels. Golson threw the ball about 60 yards, and Goodman somehow hauled in the pass in the end zone with a defender all over him.

Golson finished the quaryer 8-of-10 for 129 yards and two touchdowns. Wood has 89 yards on seven carries. 

Golson continues to impress for Notre Dame

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John Goodman's 18-yard touchdown catch against Boston College last week wasn't nearly as impressive as his one-handed, 36-yard touchdown grab at Michigan State.

At least, not for Goodman.

For quarterback Everett Golson, though, it was a truly remarkable play. That's because Golson's 18-yard pass actually traveled somewhere between 50 and 70 yards in the air. On the play, Golson rolled out to the right and bought himself some time before finding Goodman comically open in the far left side of the end zone. 

"He rolled out right, and that kind of took the defense over there," Goodman said. "I was basically one-on-one on the backside, took a couple steps like I was going to run out right with Everett, to his side, saw his eyes come back at me. So I stopped, and my guy kept running. Lucky for me, I stayed wide open. The ball felt like it was in the air forever, like the old days when I was back there catching punts."

It's not a throw every quarterback can make. But Goodman knew Golson could reach him.

"We see it every day in practice, 10 times every practice," he said. "It's not very surprising to us. I knew he had the arm to do it. That's why I stood back there. I trusted him. And it was a good result."

It was the kind of play that, frankly, Tommy Rees maybe wouldn't have been able to make -- the ability to escape the pocket, then throw a ball so far across the field. It was the kind of play that illustrates why Irish coach Brian Kelly wanted Golson under center this season, despite all the growing pains he's experienced. Kelly on Thursday again singled out Golson for his improvement over the course of the season. When asked whose progress has impressed him the most, Kelly wasted no time in answering.

"Everett Golson," he said. "I would start and end right there. He's doing all the things that we were hoping. What we had to live through was some ups and downs. But there's no question he's there"
The next time Braxston Cave plays a home football game, it won't feel much like a "home" game. That's because every home game the Notre Dame center has played has been, well, an actual home game.

Cave came to South Bend from powerhouse Penn High School in neighboring Mishawaka (which, sadly, meant he didn't get to play for  Mishawaka High School, whose nickname is the Cavemen), and hails from neighboring Granger. So, neutral-site Shamrock Series games aside, he's never played a home game more than nine miles from his parents' house. And Saturday's Senior Day game against Wake Forest will be his last.

"A lot of the guys give me a hard time for being from around here, and being close to family, but that's all I've ever known," said Cave, a fifth-year senior. "It's kind of crazy to think about the next time I'm playing football, it's not going to be close to home, or anywhere near home. It really puts it in perspective how special it's been."

Cave, like so many other high school seniors, wanted to go far away from home, be on his own and experience a new life. He had offers from Michigan and Indiana, but couldn't pass up the opportunity to play at Notre Dame. He quickly realized that college is college, even when it's just a few miles down the road.

"That first week came and I had to get my own food, and you start missing mom real quick," Cave said. "But along the way, it's been awesome having them so close, and being able to bring other guys in and take care of other guys when they were homesick, or just getting a quick meal when you were tired of eating out, or tired of the dining hall. So it's really been a blessing. And with my dad, he's been someone I can always lean on. I've been through lots of ups, lots of downs, and he was a guy I've shared some great moments and also been able to lean on him in times of need."

Cave's fellow linemen have been coming to his parents' house for a big, home-cooked meal every Thursday.

"They wouldn't go over unless his mom was there," Irish coach Brian Kelly joked. "They don't care about Braxston Cave. They love his mom and the way she cooks."

Cave -- projected as a mid- to low-round NFL Draft pick -- has started every game he's played in since his junior year in 2010, but his first senior season was cut four games short by a foot injury against these same Demon Deacons. So he was on the sideline for his first Senior Day. His second -- and last -- will be all the more special for the local boy who made good.

"It's definitely special, the last time running out the tunnel," he said. "But I feel there's more good to come. As far as this being the last time, I'd love to go out with a 'W'. But there's a better way to finish the season after that.

When asked if he could even bring himself to say, "national championship," Cave demurred.

"Not right now," he said. "Just gotta beat Wake. Gotta beat Wake."
Notre Dame's officially tied into the Orange Bowl beginning in 2014. But it's also officially limited.

As part of a 12-year agreement announced on Thursday by the ACC and the Orange Bowl Committee, Notre Dame will be part of the pool of teams eligible to play the ACC champion in the Orange Bowl. But the Irish can only make two appearances in that 12-year span.

The team picked will be the highest-ranked team eligible from the Big Ten, SEC or Notre Dame. That said, the selection will be restricted by the "appearance standards" agreed upon by everyone involved: The Big Ten and SEC are guaranteed at least three appearances, while Notre Dame gets a maximum of two. On years in which the Irish don't qualify for the four-team playoff or the Orange Bowl, they will be part of the ACC's regular bowl tie-ins as part of their agreement to play five ACC teams every year beginning in 2014.

The Orange Bowl will be played in prime time on either New Year's Eve or New Year's Day each year, and will be broadcast by ESPN.

"The Orange Bowl qualifies as one of the most prestigious events in college football's postseason, and Notre Dame has played a part in that history, three times playing  No. 1-ranked teams in our five previous appearances," said Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick in a statement. "We are honored to partner with two of the premier conferences, the SEC and the Big Ten, to make certain the ACC will have a top-flight opponent on a regular basis."

Notre Dame's Lewis-Moore ready for his senior moment

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There were plenty of people who thought Kapron Lewis-Moore's career ended on Oct. 22 last season, in a 31-17 loss to USC. When an MRI revealed that the medial collateral ligament in his right knee had become detached, the Notre Dame defensive end's season was over. And his future was murky at best -- could he recover fully? Would he get approved for a fifth season? Would freshman Aaron Lynch take his job for good?

It was a particularly painful Senior Day last year for Lewis-Moore, who had started 24 straight games for the Irish until his injury, even though the Irish edged Boston College 16-14.

But on Saturday, Lewis-Moore will get his senior moment -- and he'll do it as a starter, a captain, and a key part of the top scoring defense in the nation on an undefeated team chasing a national championship.

"I'm pretty excited about that," Lewis-Moore said. "Obviously, I was pretty upset not playing last year. I think it'll be fun running out on that field on more time and playing with my brothers, and have my mom, family and friends up there. It'll be exciting."

Lewis-Moore never doubted he'd be back. But even if couldn't have imagined a scenario quite like this.

"It's incredible," he said. "I really didn't envision it. I'm a competitor, I'm a fighter, and no matter what the situation was, I was going to do my thing. I know a lot of people counted me out and everything, and everybody was real high on... whatever. Things happened and you can't really dwell on the past, you just gotta appreciate where you are right now."

By "whatever," Lewis-Moore meant Lynch, a person whose name is rarely -- if ever -- uttered by the Irish players in the wake of his abrupt departure from the team over the offseason. Lynch's transfer to South Florida was seen by some as a critical blow to the Irish defense. So to be atop the national rankings -- both as a team and as a defense -- is particularly sweet for Lewis-Moore, who wasn't sure this day would ever come.

"It's awesome," he said. "The one thing that keeps me going is you can't really forget where you came form. Thinking about those lows when we first got here and just seeing this thing grow, seeing this program grow, it's just something amazing."

Bob Diaco has only addressed the media twice this season -- once during Media Day back in August, and once during Notre Dame's bye week -- and that's just the way he likes it. He's clearly not big on talking about himself. So perhaps it's no surprise that Irish coach Brian Kelly said Tuesday that he and Diaco haven't spent much time talking about the future, even as Diaco's name gets bandied about as the annual head coaching carousel gets ready to start spinning.

"I want to provide all of my coaches an opportunity, if it advances their career to a leadership position," Kelly said. "We want to be able to give them that opportunity. But quite frankly we don't spend much time talking about it. You know Bob, he doesn't want to talk about it. And he didn't come to Notre Dame to be the head coach somewhere else. He came to Notre Dame to help win a national championship. We've got a lot of work left. But if the right situation comes for Bob and he comes to me and asks me to give him advice on it, I certainly will."

Diaco surely will be a hot commodity after developing the Notre Dame defense into the nation's top scoring defense this season, his third as coordinator (he came over with Kelly from Cincinnati, where he was defensive coordinator for one season). He also was promoted to assistant head coach this season, and Kelly made it sound like Diaco is ready to run his own program should he decide the time is right.

"I think he clearly understands that it's more than just fielding a team on Saturday," Kelly said. "He did before he got here. That's why he's been with me. But I just think he has a great sense of Notre Dame and what Notre Dame means and how important it is that it's not just about football. I think any great head coach is going to have to have more than just an understanding of Xs and Os. You've got to understand the players, and you've got to understand the university and how to work within that entire setting. I think Bob really knows that well."

Russell cleared
Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said that freshman cornerback KeiVarae Russell, who suffered a head injury on Saturday at Boston College, was cleared to return to practice on Tuesday.

"He was cleared today to participate," Kelly said. "He passed a number of his tests -- the software test was the last hurdle for any concussions, and he passed. And he'll practice today."

The computer test Kelly mentioned is the one that quarterback Everett Golson had failed after his concussion against Stanford, which delayed his return by a day. Golson didn't play the following Saturday against BYU, but Kelly expects that Russell will be available.

Senior moment
Saturday's game against Wake Forest will be the final home game for many Irish players, but Kelly wants to keep them focused on football, not on sentimentality.

"Yes, it is your last home game, but we've got a lot in front of us," Kelly said. "What you'll remember the most is whether you win the game, not that it's your last home game. So make sure that you keep the distractions to a minimum. And if there's any emotion, let that be after the game."

Irish defense gets a boost from Irish defense

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Offense boosts defense
Notre Dame is ninth in the country in time-of-possession, and that's one reason why Notre Dame is tied for first in the country in scoring defense. And not just because it's rather difficult for opposing offenses to score when they're stuck on the sideline for seven or eight minutes at a time.

Against Boston College on Saturday, the Irish offense had drives of 13 and 16 plays in the first half. Those lengthy marches gave the Irish defense plenty of time to stay fresh, and to get coaching on the sidelines.

"It definitely helps us physically," linebacker Manti Te'o said. "And it helps us get the corrections we need from (defensive coordinator Bob) Diaco and the rest of the defensive coaches. There's a lot of instruction (during the game). None of the defensive players are watching the game going on. We're all getting the instruction we need for the next drive."

Golson a scrambling man
Everett Golson ran for five third-down conversions against Boston College. Nearly all of his 11 rushes (for 39 yards) were the same play -- a stretch play, option-run to the right side. That added dimension to the offense is something Irish coach Brian Kelly didn't trust Golson, a redshirt freshman, to handle earlier in the season.

But after totaling minus-11 rushing yards in the first four games of the season, Golson has 269 in the last five.

"There was a hesitation for me calling those plays that obviously require a skill -- they require repetition -- and anytime you're putting the ball out there on the perimeter, there is a risk factor," Kelly said. "I wasn't comfortable with that risk factor; I am now. The way he's handling the option, he read it right every time. They wanted to play the pitch, and he put his foot in the ground and got us some tough yards. When you're executing option with a guy like that, it really makes it difficult for a defense to bring pressure.".

Getting chippy
Late in the game, Notre Dame nose guard Louis Nix III and Boston College lineman Bobby Vardaro had a shoving match, earning offsetting unnecessary roughness penalties.

Kelly said Sunday that Nix felt "someone took a cheap shot" at one of his teammates, "and he didn't like that."

"The big fellas were grinding on each other all game, and it seemed to get a little personal in there," Kelly said. "Certainly, we talked to Louis and he understands that he's got to control his emotions."

Brian Kelly votes Notre Dame No. 1 in coaches' poll

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Brian Kelly believes he has the best college football team in the country. His peers disagree.

The Notre Dame head coach voted the Irish No. 1 on his coaches' poll ballot, the only coach to do so. No. 1 Oregon got 44 first-place votes, and No. 2 Kansas State garnered 14. Notre Dame is third.

"I voted Notre Dame first," Kelly said on Sunday. "I had them second last week to Alabama, of course, Alabama lost. I'll typically move up to the next slot."

Kelly has said repeatedly that he won't politic to sway voters, but he was making his case on Sunday, pointing to the fact that Notre Dame is now tied with Alabama for the top-ranked scoring defense in the country.

"The distinction of this team is its the No. 1 scoring defense in the country," he said. "It's proven that against very good teams all year. We make it very difficult to run the football. If you look at national championship caliber football, you've got to look at a defense. That's why we feel strongly that our football team has put themselves in the discussion. We'll let others decide, but we put ourselves in the discussion."

Kelly also pointed to Notre Dame's schedule, which is rated more difficult than both Oregon's and Kansas State's to this point. 

Notre Dame's DaVaris Daniels out until the bowl game

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Notre Dame wide receiver DaVaris Daniels will miss the last two games of the regular season after undergoing surgery to repair a broken clavicle suffered in the third quarter against Boston College. Brian Kelly said Daniels -- Notre Dame's third-leading receiver -- will resume running in three or four weeks, and is expected to be able to play in the Irish's bowl game.

Daniels had his best game last week against Pittsburgh, making seven catches for 86 yards. He has 25 catches for 375 yards on the season.

"He was making really good progress, learning how to play the position," Kelly said.

Senior John Goodman replaced Daniels after the injury -- which was suffered while trying to come up with a pass in the end zone -- and promptly hauled in an 18-yard touchdown pass from Everett Golson.

In other injury news, cornerback KeiVarae Russell's head injury "cleared up nicely," according to Kelly, who expects him to be ready to practice on Tuesday. 
Notre Dame got the win at Boston College on Saturday night, but might have suffered two big losses.

Wide receiver DaVaris Daniels hurt his shoulder when he landed after unsuccessfully going up for a pass in the end zone early in the third quarter. Daniels did not return, and Brian Kelly said he'll have a precautionary MRI and that he'll know more on Sunday.

But Daniels' father, former Bears defensive end Phillip Daniels, tweeted that "we will be without DaVaris for a little while. Keep him in your prayers." He did say Daniels "will be back for the bowl game."

Also, cornerback KeiVarae Russell suffered a head injury in the third quarter.

"We were conversing with him," Kelly said. "He seemed to be doing well, but we'll further evaluate that over the next 24-48 hours." 

Final: Notre Dame 21, Boston College 6

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CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. -- Brian Kelly and his coaches caught a glimpse of a TV shortly before Saturday night's game at Boston College and saw that top-ranked Alabama had lost to Texas A&M, moving fourth-ranked Notre Dame one giant step closer to the national championship game.

Kelly immediately decided not to tell his players the news, lest it fuzzy their focus for the night's game. Nice try.

"We had it on our phones, we knew," said cornerback Bennett Jackson. "A few guys were excited about it, but we didn't get too caught up in it. We were focused on the task at hand."

The task at hand was surviving and advancing past Boston College, which the Irish did with a ho-hum 21-6 victory at Alumni Stadium, leaving them one of three undefeated BCS-eligible teams left. But Kelly still isn't making stump speeches to bully Notre Dame into the BCS championship game, and the Irish certainly aren't blowing away voters by blowing away opponents, or with flashy numbers and a highlight-reel offense.

Style points just aren't Notre Dame's style.

"It's always about the win," linebacker Manti Te'o said. "There's nothing else that matters. Stats don't matter. As long as we win, that's all that matters."

And the Irish just keep winning, and if they keep doing that -- and if Oregon or Kansas State slips up down the stretch -- they might just grind their way to the top, just like they grinded their way past the Eagles.

This one followed a familiar formula. The Irish (10-0 for the first time since 1993) dominated the time of possession with long, efficient, clock-devouring drives anchored by a reliable running game and timely third-down conversions -- the Irish converted their first 10 third-down attempts. And the defense held Boston College out of the end zone, showing some of the bending but none of the breaking that nearly cost the Irish everything last week against Pittsburgh.

The Irish took the life right out of the Eagles (2-8) and a buzzing crowd with two cruelly efficient first-half scoring drives, led by a sharp, dual-threat Everett Golson at quarterback. The Irish opened the game with a 13-play, 95-yard drive capped by a Golson 2-yard touchdown run. They closed the first half with a 16-play, 87-yard drive that ended in a 7-yard TD pass from Golson to Troy Niklas. The drive ate up more than eight minutes and sent Notre Dame into the locker room up 14-3.

The Irish opened the third quarter with a comparatively brief nine-play, 70-yard drive that ended in Golson (16-of-24, 200 yards, 2 TD) hitting John Goodman for an 18-yard touchdown and a 21-3 lead.

Kelly was heartened to see his team capitalizing in the red zone.

"We said that once he starts playing at the level we need him in the red zone, we will start scoring touchdowns, and not just field goals," Kelly said

Neither team -- nor the lulled-to-sleep crowd, for that matter -- made much noise the rest of the way, as the Irish ran out the clock on another marginally impressive, but mammothly important victory. Not that you'll hear the Irish talk about the national title with two games left -- Wake Forest and USC. If anything, Alabama's loss was another cautionary tale after last week's near-debacle against Pittsburgh.

"That's proof that it's college football, and any team can lose at any time," Te'o said. "And we just don't want to be that team."

Halftime update: Golson leads Irish to 14-3 lead

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If the Irish were looking for style points to boost their BCS cred in the wake of top-ranked Alabama's loss to Texas A&M earlier Saturday, they didn't get in the first half against Boston College.

But the Irish still moved the ball at will against the 2-7 Eagles defense, taking a 14-3 lead into halftime. They just took their time, is all.

Remarkably, the Irish had just three possessions in the first half. A George Atkinson III fumble stunted the second one, but the first and third were methodical marches that chewed up the clock and the Boston College defense.

After the Irish forced a punt on the Eagles' opening drive, Everett Golson engineered a 95-yard touchdown drive -- the longest of the season for ND -- capping it with a 2-yard touchdown run of his own.

BC responded with a lengthy drive of its own, but after the Irish defense allowed five passes of at least 10 yards, Prince Shembo and Sheldon Day combined for a third-down sack of BC quarterback Chase Rettig, and the Eagles had to settle for a 36-yard field goal.

After Atkinson's fumble and another BC punt, Golson ate up 8 minutes, 30 seconds with a 16-play, 87-yard scoring drive, capped by a 7-yard touchdown pass to Troy Niklas.

The Irish were 8-of-8 on third downs in the half, with Golson picking up five of them on designed runs. He had eight carries for 37 yards, and was 10-of-13 for 134 yards passing. Theo Riddick added 58 yards on eight carries, and Tyler Eifert had four catches for 52 yards. 

Alabama loss could open the BCS door for Notre Dame

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A somewhat mundane, mid-November Notre Dame-Boston College game got a jolt of energy Saturday evening as Texas A&M knocked off top-ranked Alabama, greatly increasing the Irish's chances of playing for a national championship.

Alabama's loss leaves three undefeated teams (not including ineligible Ohio State) vying for a spot in the BCS championship game. As of last week, Kansas State was No. 2 in the BCS, with Oregon at No. 3 and Notre Dame at No. 4. Assuming the Wildcats handle TCU and the Irish handle BC tonight, those three will be the top three when the BCS standings are unveiled on Sunday night.

The question is, who will be in the top two at the end? If all three win out, all three will have a case.

Oregon, which will almost certainly be No. 1 in both human polls tomorrow, has the clearest path. If the Ducks win out, they'll have beaten USC (on the road last week), Stanford (at home next week) and Oregon State (on the road Thanksgiving weekend). That strength-of-schedule boost should push them ahead of Kansas State and keep them ahead of the Irish.

But what of the Wildcats and the Irish? Kansas State -- which has wins over Oklahoma, West Virginia, Texas Tech and Oklahoma State -- closes with Baylor next week and Texas on Dec. 1 -- a week after the Irish finish the season at USC. So awin over the preseason No. 1 Trojans might not be enough to push Notre Dame ahead of KSU, as USC is a pedestrian 6-3 (and will have its hands full again next week against UCLA). But the Irish will point to wins over Oklahoma, Stanford and Michigan as evidence that it deserves the bid (and critics, of course, will understandably point to near-disasters at home against BYU and Pittsburgh).

As it stands now, Notre Dame is still the odd team out, with the Rose Bowl, Fiesta Bowl and Sugar Bowl all possible destinations. But Alabama's loss certainly makes a trip to the Jan. 7 BCS championship game in Miami a more realistic possibility. 

Nix shows his tough side in 'gutsy' effort vs. Pitt

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Thirty minutes before last Tuesday's practice, Louis Nix III was AWOL. Brian Kelly and his staff were trying to get a hold of the big nose guard, and were coming up empty.

Turns out, Nix just couldn't bring himself to get out of bed.

"I just didn't want to wake up," Nix said. "I just felt so bad."

It didn't take long for Nix, the Irish or his teachers to figure out he had the flu.

"They knew something was wrong," Nix said. "If you don't see me smiling and laughing and joking around, then something's wrong with me."

Nix spent the next two days in the infirmary, getting medication round the clock -- "they woke me up at 4 a.m. just to get more meds," he said -- in an effort to get him healthy in time to play against Pittsburgh on Saturday.

When gameday arrived, Nix told Kelly that he wasn't ready to play, saying he wasn't even "70 percent." Kelly agreed, and said the Irish would only use him in an "emergency situation."

Well, it was an emergency situation. Kona Schwenke hurt his shoulder, and Nix went in the game.

The way Kelly tells it, Nix was fighting to get in. "He wanted to get in there and help his team."

The way Manti Te'o tells it, Nix was champing at the bit. "Louis has a lot of heart. He loves his team and he loves to win. There's no stopping him from getting on the field."

The way Nix tells it, he was more of a reluctant warrior: "They threw me out there and I did the best I could. Me, I'm all for the team. If I need to get out there, throw me in the fire. I don't care."

Understandable, Nix struggled with his conditioning. Usually on the field for five or more plays in a row at a time, he came out after every third play. But he was a big reason why Ray Graham and the Pitt ground game ground to a halt in the fourth quarter and overtime. As much as Nix is known for his goofy side and his "Chocolate News" videos on YouTube, he's a huge -- literally and figuratively -- part of Notre Dame's defense.

"When he got in there, he played very well," Kelly said. "He played really gutsy. He would come over to the sideline, and you could tell he was not feeling very well. But it was just a gutsy performance from a kid that was sick all week."

Kelly says Brindza's issues are mechanical, not mental

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Kyle Brindza set a Michigan high school record with 19 field goals as a senior in 2010. He made 6-of-9 kicks from 50 yards or more. He hit a 47-yarder into the wind to lock up a playoff victory, and he won the regional championship with 38 seconds left in the game.

So Brian Kelly knows that Brindza has the mental toughness to handle being the placekicker at Notre Dame.

"I know Kyle Brindza," Kelly said on Tuesday. "I've seen him kick in high school. I know what he's made of. He's won a state championship.

But following the Oklahoma game, Kelly said Brindza was "shaking my confidence" and that he told him "don't do it again." Brindza responded by missing a field goal for the third straight game in last Saturday's 29-26 triple-overtime victory over Pittsburgh. More alarming was a missed extra point in the fourth quarter, with the Irish trying to erase a 14-point deficit. Brindza was bailed out by Everett Golson, who darted into the end zone for the game-tying two-point conversion with 3:03 to go in the fourth quarter.

Brindza rebounded by making a 37-yarder in the first overtime to send the game to another extra session. It was his third make of the game after two first-quarter field goals of 37 and 39 yards.

Kelly said he talks directly to Brindza after misses, rather than going through an assistant coach. He said he's encouraged that Brindza's misses are the product of poor mechanics, not mental weakness. Because mechanics are easier to fix.

"He's going to move on," Kelly said. "For him, consistency of mechanics. But (what) I always look for, is the game affecting a player? Are the circumstances affecting a player? That doesn't affect him. It's mechanical, and I'm going over there saying, 'Hey, listen, get on the side, kick it again, we're going to need you. How do you feel?' 'I feel good.' That's all I am looking for."

Brian Kelly was about 15 minutes late to his weekly Tuesday press conference, because he was voting.

And that will be the extent of his participation in the political process. Notre Dame's coach reiterated Tuesday that he wasn't going to try to sway voters that an undefeated Irish team should be in the national championship game if Alabama, Oregon and Kansas State also remain unbeaten.

"It doesn't help," Kelly said. "If it helped, you know me, I could talk all day. If it really helped, I would be on the stump for it. But it doesn't do anything. The only thing that does is winning football games. So I try to spend all my time and energy focused on how we can get another win, and getting to 10. That's really where we're at right now: How do we get to 10?"

Kelly earned the Notre Dame job largely on the strength of his final season at Cincinnati in 2009. The Bearcats went 12-0, but were ranked fourth and were left out of the BCS championship game, instead relegated to the Sugar Bowl, where they lost 51-24 to Florida.

That was the first time since 2004 -- when Auburn was the odd team out -- that an undefeated team from a BCS conference was left out of the title game. Kelly said he wouldn't have -- no, couldn't have -- done anything differently that season.

"I knew we couldn't control the ultimate goal," he said. "We couldn't control it in Cincinnati. The way the BCS is set up right now, if you have more than two undefeated teams, you can't control it. Now, in two years, when you have (a four-team playoff), yeah, now you can control things a little bit more. You may be talking more about your teams. But you can't now. Maybe in two years, you'll find me talking a lot more about it."

When a reporter asked Kelly if he could ever have imagined a 12-0 Notre Dame team suffering the same fate as a 12-0 Cincinnati team, he didn't take the bait.

"If you told me that Alabama and Oregon were also undefeated, as well as Notre Dame, I would say, 'Well, there's a chance,'" Kelly said. "Those are teams that have been there and done that. Notre Dame hasn't done it in a while. Those teams are undefeated, too. I would say, 'Well, there's a chance we may get left out.'"
Of all the twists and turns in Notre Dame's 29-26 triple-overtime victory over Pittsburgh on Saturday, the biggest break the Irish got was Kevin Harper's missed 33-yard field goal in the second overtime, a kick that would have won the game and ended the Irish's national championship dreams.

Turns out it was an even bigger break than everyone thought.

Both Bennett Jackson and Chris Brown were on the field for Notre Dame during the field goal. Both players wear No. 2, and aren't allowed to be on the field at the same time. A penalty should have been called, which would have given Pitt a first down and a chance to score a touchdown or get an even easier field-goal attempt.

"It was a coaching mistake," Irish coach Brian Kelly said on Sunday. "We had put our Desperado team out there and Chris Brown is part of Desperado. We've got to do a better job. It's an oversight that can't happen."

But the referees didn't notice, Harper missed the kick, and Notre Dame went on to win the game in the third overtime. Kelly didn't deny it was a fortuitous turn of events, but said that no team can get to 9-0 on luck alone.

Most of the time you're making your luck, and you are playing through some rough spots," he said. "I've never had a team that won because it was lucky. I've had many teams that were fortunate because they were good football teams and they found a way to win.

"I don't think I've had a lucky football team. I think I've had a good football team that has gotten some breaks and some luck along the way."
Notre Dame's national championship hopes are in serious jeopardy, as the flailing Irish trail Pittsburgh 20-6 after three quarters at Notre Dame Stadium.

Brian Kelly chose to stick with Tommy Rees at quarterback to start the second half, and he led two drives -- one ended in a punt at midfield, and one ended in an interception on a badly thrown ball to a wide-open Pitt defender, Eric Williams. After the pick, Pitt quarterback Tino Sunseri found tight end J.P. Holtz for a 43-yard gain up the middle, then a 9-yard touchdown pass to give the Panthers a 17-6 lead.

Everett Golson returned for the next series, but the Irish again stalled at midfield. Pitt immediately got a 48-yard run by Ray Graham, and moved to first-and-goal from the 2, before the Irish stiffened and got a badly needed stop, forcing Pitt to settle for a 21-yard field goal and a 20-6 lead.

Graham has 151 yards on 15 carries against the vaunted Notre Dame rushing defense. 

Halftime update: Irish trail Pitt 10-6

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Notre Dame dominated play in the first half against Pittsburgh on Saturday, but found itself trailing 10-6 at the half, thanks to an offense that sputtered in the red zone, and a defense that went from invincible to vulnerable in a matter of moments.

Tied 3-3 after one, Notre Dame drove all the way to the Pitt 1-yard line early in the second quarter. But Theo Riddick -- who had a 2-yard touchdown run overturned on a replay -- was stuffed for no gain on second down, then a 4-yard loss on third down, and the Irish had to settle for a 20-yard Kyle Brindza field goal. The drive went 89 yards on 18 plays and took up 9 minutes, 26 seconds -- but resulted in just three points.

After the teams traded punts, Pitt suddenly seized control with four straight plays of at least 10 yards -- three passes and then Ray Graham's 16-yard touchdown run, on which he ran right through Notre Dame safety Matthias Farley. It was just the second rushing touchdown Notre Dame has surrendered all season.

Tommy Rees -- who entered the game when Everett Golson's helmet came off for a third-down play late -- finished the quarter, running the hurry-up and setting up a Brindza 44-yard field-goal attempt, which was wide right as time expired. Golson finished the half 9-of-15 for 88 yards. 

First-quarter update: Notre Dame, Pitt tied at 3-3

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Notre Dame's offense came out hot against Pittsburgh on Saturday afternoon, but another red-zone stall left the Irish tied 3-3 after one quarter.

Irish quarterback Everett Golson, coming off his breakthrough performance at Oklahoma last week, was sharp from the start, completing his first four passes as Notre Dame moved the ball quickly and moved the ball well on the opening drive. But the drive sputtered, and the Irish settled for a 37-yard Kyle Brindza field goal.

Pitt responded with a 55-yard Ray Graham run on its first offensive snap of the game -- the longest play surrendered by Notre Dame this year -- but the Irish defense stiffened, Kapron Lewis-Moore got a third-down sack, and Pitt settled for a 39-yard Kevin Harper field goal.

Golson finished the quarter 8-of-11 for 79 yards, while Theo Riddick had 31 rushing yards and Cierre Wood added 25. Golson has the Irish in Pitt territory when the second quarter begins. 

More Manti Te'o Heisman thoughts

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Here's a link to my story on Manti Te'o's slim Heisman Trophy chances. Some other thoughts from the cutting room floor:

Chris Huston, of's "Heisman Pundit" and a voter himself, on whether enough things could fall into place for Te'o to have a realistic chance to win, and not just get invited to New York: "You can come up with scenarios for how that can happen. You can come up with scenarios for how Mitt Romney could win Illinois, too, but it's probably not very likely to happen."

Huston, on just how amazing a season a defensive player would need to have a chance: "He would have to have the kind of ridiculous season that would be so ridiculous that offenses would never allow it to happen. If you had a defensive end who through the first half of the season had 20 sacks, teams would move away from him. It's another factor why defensive players are at a disadvantage; they don't control where the ball's going, or what the tempo of the game is."

Notre Dame defensive end Kapron Lewis-Moore: "I just hope Manti wins it at the end of the day. He's very well deserving. I'm gonna be biased. He's my teammate and I hope he wins it, and I'm gonna do everything in my power to help him win it."

Lewis-Moore, on whether that's realistic: "Yeah, it's realistic. It goes out to the best player in college football, and I think he's the best player in college football."

Notre Dame linebacker Carlo Calabrese, one of Te'o's closest friends: "We have a great defensive player in Manti. He's doing a great job each week with all the tackles he's getting, the interceptions, and he's a great leader on and off the field. If he keeps doing what he's doing, I think he has a great chance of getting it."

Calabrese, on whether that's realistic: "
Definitely. Definitely him."

Stout Irish run defense ready for another challenge

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Oklahoma entered last Saturday's game against Notre Dame averaging 200 rushing yards per game.

Against the Irish, the Sooners had just 15, averaging barely half a yard on each of their 24 attempts.

"We have a great, physical defense," linebacker Carlo Calabrese said. "We're not going to let anybody run on us."

At one point in the second quarter, the Irish held a 100 to minus-9 rushing edge on Oklahoma. Those twin strengths -- a stout rushing defense and a strong rushing game -- have been the driving forces behind Notre Dame's dream season.

The physical edge on both lines gives the Irish a clear mental edge, too, especially as the games wear on.

"It's a big factor, controlling the line of scrimmage," Calabrese said. "If your defense is controlling the line of scrimmage and they're not running, it's pretty bad for the offense and their ego, when someone's controlling you and pushing you back. And with our offense, if we're pushing their defense back, it's a big booster for our offense, getting them rolling."

This Saturday's opponent, Pittsburgh, is no Oklahoma, but the Panthers average a respectable 150 yards on the ground per game, led by senior Ray Graham and freshman Rushel Shell. Graham has 622 yards and seven touchdowns through eight games, and Shell has 441 yards and four touchdowns through seven games.

"The running backs are real electric," said Notre Dame defensive end Kapron Lewis-Moore. "Ray Graham and No. 4 (Shell), they have two different types of running styles. As a defense, when you play two different running backs with two different styles, it's very hard to prepare for."

Notre Dame lands four-star cornerback recruit

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Four-star cornerback Cole Luke became the third defensive back to join Notre Dame's 2013 recruiting class on Thursday, according to multiple online reports.

Luke, a senior at Hamilton High in Chandler, Ariz., was the 22nd-ranked cornerback prospect, according to The 6-foot, 165-pound Luke had more than a dozen offers from high-profile programs, including Oklahoma. He took his official visit to Oklahoma last week, according to Rivals, and saw the Irish defeat the Sooners.

Luke is the 22nd member of the so-called "Irish Mob" incoming freshman class. His addition further bolsters the secondary, which was so thin this season after failing to bring in a single cornerback recruit that three converted offensive players have been starting -- cornerbacks Bennett Jackson and KeiVarae Russell and safety Matthias Farley.

Blue and Gold Illustrated was the first to report Luke's commitment.

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