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Posted on Mon. Nov. 26, 2012 - 12:15 am EDT

SEC champion likely Irish foe

Kelly says team will work on improving

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LOS ANGELES — And now Notre Dame waits.

The Irish (12-0) completed their first undefeated regular season since 1988 with Saturday night’s 22-13 victory at USC (7-5).

The spotless record kept Notre Dame at the top of the BCS standings for a second straight week and put it in the Jan. 7 BCS championship game in Miami.

As for the Irish’s opponent for their first title in 24 years, it will likely come out of the SEC.

Alabama (11-1) was No. 2 in the BCS standings, .0743 percentage points behind Notre Dame (.9979-.9236), and Georgia (11-1) was No. 3 in the standings .1068 behind the Irish (.9979-.8911) and .0325 behind the Crimson Tide (.9236-.8911).

The Tide and Bulldogs play in the SEC championship game on Saturday in Atlanta with the winner likely to face the Irish for the title.

But coach Brian Kelly wasn’t worried about who his team’s opponent would be as he has a chance to lead Notre Dame to a championship in his third season just like former Irish coaches Frank Leahy, Ara Parseghian, Dan Devine and Lou Holtz.

“When things were out of our control (this season), we just focused on ourselves, and we’ll do this going into the next stage for us, assuming that we’re playing in another game for the national championship,” Kelly said. “We will focus on us. It won’t be all right it’s this team or that team. We got to figure out over the next six weeks how we get better as a football team.”

Notre Dame is better than a lot of people thought it would be this season.

The Irish began the year unranked and with a suspect offense led by first-year quarterback Everett Golson.

But backed by the nation’s top defense in points allowed, Notre Dame steadily improved on offense and kept winning all of its games.

“The hard work and the grind and the competing that we did in the offseason and to witness it pay off and to be in this position that we are in right now, there is nothing like it,” safety Zeke Motta said.

“It’s got to boost everybody’s confidence and excitement to be in this position. You know, not having been here in a long time, I’m sure the Notre Dame nation is just ecstatic right now, as the whole team is.”

The Irish also remained at No. 1 in the Associated Press Top 25 and the USA Today coaches poll. Only the coaches poll factors into the BCS standings.

Notre Dame took all 60 first-place votes in the AP poll, and the Irish collected 56 of the 59 first-place votes in the coaches poll. Alabama, which received two first-place votes in the coaches poll, and Georgia, which got one first-place vote from the coaches, were behind Notre Dame in both polls.

The AP top five was filled out with Ohio State (12-0), which cannot receive votes in the coaches poll because of sanctions, and Florida (11-1). The coaches poll top five was filled out with Oregon (11-1) and Florida.

“If there is anything I can say it’s the heavenly father answers prayers in ways that you don’t know,” linebacker Manti Te’o, who decided to return for his senior season instead of entering the NFL draft after last season. “I think I’ve been an example of that if you pray and you actually listen and have faith and the courage do to what the Lord tells you to do, he will provide a way for you to do it. I prayed for that, and I was smart enough to listen.

“Notre Dame should be at the top, and I’m just grateful to be part of that.”

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