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November 18, 2012

Notre Dame primed for No. 1

TJ Jones said he wouldn't watch Oregon at all. Zack Martin said he'd watch Kansas State but wouldn't stress about it.

Right.

When Kansas State was blown out at Baylor and Oregon was upset in overtime by Stanford it positioned Notre Dame to move to No. 1 for the first time since upsetting Florida State in 1993. It's been 317 A.P. Polls since the Irish ranked on top. The Irish have never been No. 1 in the BCS era.

In the immediate aftermath of routing Wake Forest 38-0, Notre Dame's players insisted they wouldn't be paying attention to all that. About five hours later, not paying attention to all that became virtually impossible.

"Off the field, away from practice, I don't pay too much attention to college sports to kind of clear my mind on what we're doing here," Jones said. "I'm probably going to stay as far from that as I can."

At least Martin admitted he'd actually watch.

"When I go home I'll probably flip it on," Martin said. "But I'm not like sitting there biting my nails at the TV."

Notre Dame's impending move to No. 1 means the Irish have a clear path to the national title game, likely against the winner of the SEC Championship between Alabama and Georgia in two weeks.

Punching a ticket to Miami means Notre Dame must beat USC next Saturday night at the Los Angeles Coliseum. ESPN's College GameDay will be on campus.

The Trojans could be without starting quarterback Matt Barkley, who appeared to suffer a significant right shoulder injury late in the fourth quarter against UCLA. Anthony Barr delivered the hit, the Bruins' defender the son of former Notre Dame running back Tony Brooks, who played on the 1988 championship team.

Adding it up means Notre Dame's focus will be tested at a level unlike anything Brian Kelly has experienced in his coaching career. The last time the Irish ranked No. 1 in the A.P. Poll, they lost the very next week against Boston College.

"It's easier now because we have one game left. So for us the focus and all of those things, not looking ahead, we don't have to worry about that anymore," Kelly said in his postgame press conference after the Wake Forest win. "We have one game left on our schedule. Our guys know what's at stake now. This is about an undefeated season. They cannot do anything else but beat USC. 

"The rest is up to other people to decide."

Not anymore.

It's all up to Notre Dame now.


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