The top-ranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish will play for their first national championship since 1988, thanks to a 22-13 victory over the USC Trojans at the Los Angeles Coliseum.
Kyle Brindza made five field goals to help the Irish secure a spot in the BCS National Championship Game, which will be played on Jan. 7, 2013 at Sun Life Stadium.
Thanks to losses by both Oregon and Kansas State last week, coupled with Notre Dame's shutout of Wake Forest, Brian Kelly's Irish moved to the head of the top-25 poll, as well as the BCS rankings.
With Saturday's victory, Notre Dame improved to 12-0 for the first time since 1988. Lou Holtz guided the '88 team to a national championship.
"The coaches did a great job this week of keeping our guys focused on the game itself," Kelly said. "We really focused on the game."
Everett Golson completed 15-of-26 passes for 217 yards for the Irish, who will likely face a Southeastern Conference opponent in Miami. Alabama and Georgia will play for the SEC title next weekend.
Theo Riddick rushed for 146 yards and a score on 20 carries for Notre Dame.
Max Wittek, filling in for an injured Matt Barkley, connected on 14-of-23 passes for 186 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions for the Trojans (7-5). The freshman quarterback made his first career start.
Notre Dame, which came into the game tied with Alabama for first nationally in scoring defense (10.1 ppg), used a late goal line stand to help preserve the victory.
Trailing by nine, 22-13, the Trojans got a 43-yard kickoff return from Marqise Lee with about six minutes to play. On the first play, Lee hauled in a 53-yard pass to put the ball at the 2-yard line. Consecutive pass interference penalties on KeiVarae Russell set up USC at the one. Wittek was stuffed at the line on back-to-back quarterback sneaks. Curtis McNeal was then stopped to bring up 4th-and-goal. Wittek's pass to Soma Vainuku fell incomplete and the Irish took over on downs.
"It's just so hard to score touchdowns versus them," USC coach Lane Kiffin said. "When the ball is on the 2-inch line, you'd think you could score touchdowns."
The Irish were able to run out almost all of the remaining time left on the clock.
Notre Dame got the ball to start the game and quickly moved the ball into USC territory. The Irish gained 12 yards or more on four of the first five plays, but had to settle for a 27-yard Brindza field goal.
The Irish found the end zone on their next possession to take a 10-0 lead. Riddick, TJ Jones and Tyler Eifert caught passes of 11, 20 and 15 yards, respectively, to move the ball to the USC 24. Eifert added a 12-yard catch on 3rd-and-9 to keep the drive alive. Riddick ran up the middle for a 9-yard score with 1:48 left.
A few penalties on Notre Dame helped the Trojans score their first touchdown of the game. Russell was called for pass interference and Bennett Jackson grabbed Lee's face mask, which set up USC at the 11-yard line. On the first play of the second quarter, Robert Woods caught an 11-yard pass in the middle of the end zone.
Brindza and Andre Heidari exchanged field goals of 29 and 39 yards, respectively, to make it a 13-10 contest.
Wittek's first big mistake came late in the first half when Russell picked him off at the Notre Dame 17. John Goodman and Robby Toma hauled in passes of 23 and 12 yards, respectively, to move the ball to the USC 35. Brindza made a career-long 52-yard field goal as time expired, making it 16-10.
The Irish had a chance to extend their lead after Manti Te'o picked off Wittek on the second play of the second half. However, Brindza pushed a 34-yard field goal wide left.
Brindza redeemed himself by making a 33-yarder later in the third stanza. Eifert's 36-yard catch along the left sideline helped set up the field goal, which made it a 19-10 contest with 31 seconds remaining.
USC bridged the third and fourth frames with a 13-play, 80-yard drive. Woods caught passes of 17 and 18 yards to move the ball into the red zone. The Irish, though, held strong once the Trojans got to the 2-yard line. Heidari made a 21-yard field goal to cut the gap to 19-13.
George Atkinson III returned the ensuing kickoff 39 yards to give Notre Dame great field position. Riddick ripped off a 20-yard run on the first play, moving the ball to the USC 36. Brindza made a 19-yard field goal to make it 22-13 with 5:58 to play.
Notre Dame holds a 44-35-5 series advantage against USC. The Trojans had won nine of the previous 10 meetings ... Silas Redd carried the ball 12 times for 77 yards for USC ... Woods caught seven passes for 92 yards ... Te'o, the Heisman Trophy hopeful, joined Bob Crable as the only Notre Dame player ever to collect 100 or more tackles in three separate seasons.