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Notre Dame back on top

Notre Dame returned to college football’s penthouse today.

The Irish moved to No. 1 in the Associated Press Top 25 and USA Today coaches poll. It is the first time Notre Dame is ranked first in the AP poll since Nov. 14, 1993.

The Irish (11-0) took all 60 of the first-place votes in the AP Top 25, and they grabbed 56 of the 59 first-place votes in the coaches poll.

Notre Dame is expected to top the BCS standings, which are released tonight, giving the Irish only one more obstacle to secure a spot in the Jan. 7 championship inMiami.

Notre Dame closes the regular season at USC (7-4) on Saturday, and a victory in that game will align the Irish against likely either Alabama or Georgia in championship game.

“We’ve got to hit the pause button and realize we’re not doing this to be No. 1 for three to four days,” coach Brian Kelly said during his Sunday teleconference. “We’re doing this because we want a consistent program that’s in the hunt every year.”

Alabama is No. 2 and Georgiais No. 3 in both polls with the Crimson Tide (10-1) receiving two first-place nods in the coaches poll and the Bulldogs (10-1) getting one first-place vote.

Notre Dame’s ascent from No. 3 in both polls comes after the Irish’s dominate 38-0 win over Wake Forest and last week’s No. 1 Oregon losing 17-14 to Stanford and No. 2 Kansas State losing 52-24 to Baylor.

It is the first time Notre Dame and Alabama are Nos. 1 and 2 in the AP poll since 1967, according to AP writer Ralph D. Russo. The two programs have the most AP national championships between them with each collecting eight in their histories.

“Now we don’t have to answer the question about style points or politics or anything like that,” Kelly said. “We get a chance to play for the national championship if we win this week.”

The Trojans, who lost 38-28 to UCLA on Saturday, could be without quarterback Matt Barkley for Saturday’s game. Barkley was injured after a hit by UCLA’s Anthony Barr in the fourth quarter, and according to Los Angeles Daily News’ Scott Wolf he suffered a separation in his right throwing shoulder.

Kelly said the Trojans have too many offensive weapons to worry about preparing for a specific quarterback, and he also said the Irish will practice like Barkley will play against them.

“The offense is still going to be about getting the ball to their playmakers,” Kelly said.

ESPN’s “College GameDay” will broadcast from Saturday’s game inLos Angeles, marking the third time this season Notre Dame has played at the site of the popular pregame show.

Notre Dame played host to “GameDay” when it took on Stanford on Oct. 13, and the show was at the Irish’s game at Oklahoma on Oct. 27.

And even though the Irish are in a position to win their first title since 1988, Kelly said his players have remained level headed and focused on the season’s final task – beating USC.

“I was down in the training room when the guys were popping in today; they all to a man know that it doesn't mean much if you’re No. 1 for just three to four days,” Kelly said. “They understand the importance of the USC game. I was happy to see they have that kind of mentality, they know it’s all about how we play against USC.”

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