Notre Dame running back Theo Riddick celebrates after Notre Dame defeated Southern California, 22-13, late Saturday in Los Angeles.
LOS ANGELES — The Fighting Irish punched their ticket to Miami.
Theo Riddick rushed for 146 yards and a touchdown, Kyle Brindza kicked five field goals, and No. 1 Notre Dame secured a spot in the BCS championship game with a 22-13 victory over Southern California on Saturday night.
Everett Golson passed for 217 yards as the Fighting Irish (12-0) completed their first perfect regular season since 1988, earning a trip to south Florida on Jan. 7 to play for the storied program’s first national title in 24 years.
Although they did little with flash on an electric night at the Coliseum, the Irish woke up more echoes of past Notre Dame greats with a grinding effort in this dynamic intersectional rivalry with USC (7-5), which has lost four of five.
Notre Dame’s hard-nosed defense appropriately made the decisive stand in the final minutes, keeping USC out of the end zone on four plays from the Irish 1 with 2:33 to play.
After spending more than a decade looking up at the Trojans, the Irish are back on top of this rivalry with two straight wins in Los Angeles. The school of Knute Rockne, the Four Horsemen and Paul Hornung has new heroes now, from inspirational linebacker Manti Te’o to coach Brian Kelly, who took the Irish from unranked to start the season to No. 1 in the AP Top 25 for the first time in 19 years.
Te’o, the Heisman Trophy hopeful, had a key interception against USC and became the second Irish defender with three 100-tackle seasons.
The grind-it-out win highlighted an unforgettable season for the Irish, who began the year with questions about their relevancy and survived some uninspiring performances and nail-biting finishes with their unbeaten record intact.
Notre Dame is likely to face an SEC opponent in Miami, but won’t know for another week.
With the Irish offense repeatedly stalling in the red zone against the Trojans, Brindza went five for six on field goals, even hitting a 52-yarder at the halftime gun.
After Brindza’s school record-tying fifth field goal put the Irish up by nine points with 5:58 left, Marqise Lee caught a 53-yard pass from USC freshman Max Wittek at the Notre Dame 2.
But after USC failed on three straight runs at a defense that has allowed just 11 rushing TDs in 30 games, Wittek threw incomplete to fullback Soma Vainuku, setting off a leaping, chest-bumping celebration on the Notre Dame sideline and in the Irish sections of the sold-out Coliseum.
Lee caught just five passes for 75 yards, yet still broke the Pac-12 single-season receptions record established last year by teammate Robert Woods, who had seven catches for 92 yards.
Wittek passed for 186 yards with two interceptions in his first career start for the Trojans, who completed their tumble from the preseason No. 1 ranking with four losses in five games in an enormously disappointing season. Wittek filled in capably for injured Matt Barkley, but USC is headed to a lower-tier bowl in the first year after its NCAA-mandated two-year postseason ban ended.
Barkley watched from the sideline in a grey hoodie with a sling on his right arm after spraining his shoulder in last week’s loss at UCLA. The senior and Pac-12 career passing leader won twice in South Bend during his career, but never got to face the Irish at the Coliseum, sidelined by injuries for both visits.
Barkley still ran down the Coliseum tunnel with the rest of the USC seniors for their final home game. He participated in the coin toss, but could only watch while the Irish opened the game with three clock-consuming drives resulting in 13 points.
USC’s much-criticized defensive caution under assistant head coach Monte Kiffin was exploited by the Irish, with Golson patiently finding the sags in the Trojans’ pass coverage for 181 yards passing in the first half. Riddick went 9 yards for a TD in the first quarter, but USC also stiffened to hold Notre Dame to field goals twice in the red zone.
Notre Dame held its 12th straight opponent without a first-quarter touchdown, but Wittek found Woods for a 9-yard score on the first play of the second quarter — just the ninth touchdown allowed by Notre Dame all season long. The Irish took a 16-10 lead to halftime when Brindza hit the second-longest field goal in Notre Dame history.
Te’o made the seventh interception of his phenomenal season when Wittek threw directly to him on USC’s second play of the second half. Both teams struggled to move the ball in the third quarter, and USC settled for a field goal with 9:20 to play just a few moments after USC coach Lane Kiffin called a timeout right before a play that ended with Lee catching a pass on the goal line.
No. 4 OHIO STATE 26, No. 20 MICHIGAN 21
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Carlos Hyde ran for 146 yards and Ohio State’s defense shut out Michigan in the second half to complete a 12-0 season.
It was a sweet win for the Buckeyes, just 6-7 last season with a loss to their archrivals in a transitional year in which they were facing heavy NCAA penalties. After Urban Meyer took the job as head coach a year ago, they were socked with a bowl ban after this season — and still ran the table.
Ohio State (12-0, 8-0 Big Ten) is ineligible for a BCS national title but still has an outside shot at finishing No. 1 in the final Associated Press Top 25 if other contenders lose. Michigan (8-4, 6-2) will now await a minor bowl bid.
Drew Basil matched his season output with four field goals and the defense did the rest, forcing three turnovers in the second half.
No. 5 OREGON 48, No. 16 OREGON STATE 24
CORVALLIS, Ore. (AP) — Kenjon Barner ran for 198 yards and two touchdowns despite leaving the game for a time with an injury and the Ducks kept alive their hopes for a spot in the Pac-12 title game and even an outside chance at the national championship.
De’Anthony Thomas, who helped picked up the slack while Barner was on the sidelines, ran for 122 yards and three scores for the Ducks (11-1, 8-1).
After Oregon’s undefeated season was thwarted by a 17-14 overtime loss to Stanford last weekend, the Ducks had to wait for UCLA’s game against the Cardinal later Saturday to see who would be headed to the conference championship game. Both Oregon and Stanford started the day with one conference loss in the league’s northern division.
Sean Mannion threw for 311 yards and a touchdown but was intercepted four times for the Beavers (8-3).
No. 6 FLORIDA 37, No. 10 FLORIDA STATE 26
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Mike Gillislee ran for two touchdowns and the Gators beat their rivals to stay in the national title hunt.
Florida regained the lead 23-20 on Gillislee’s 37-yard run with 11:01 left in the final period on the first play after Florida State’s EJ Manuel fumbled, his fourth turnover of the game. Gillislee finished with 140 yards rushing.
Florida (11-1, 7-1 Southeastern Conference) came into the game fourth in the BCS standings
Florida State (10-2, 7-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) was hurt by five turnovers in the game. The Seminoles will play Georgia Tech next week in the ACC title game.
No. 14 OKLAHOMA 51, No. 22 OKLAHOMA STATE 48
NORMAN, Okla. (AP) — Landry Jones threw for 500 yards and three touchdowns, and Brennan Clay scored on an 18-yard run in overtime to lift Oklahoma.
The Sooners (9-2, 7-1 Big 12) never led during regulation, overcoming double-digit deficits in both halves. Backup quarterback Blake Bell tied it with 4 seconds left on a 4-yard keeper on fourth-and-1.
Joseph Randle ran for 113 yards and matched his career-high with four touchdowns for Oklahoma State (7-4, 5-3), which settled for Quinn Sharp’s 26-yard field goal in overtime.
On the Sooners’ second play, Clay got through traffic at the line of scrimmage and then broke through attempted tackles by Daytawion Lowe and Shamiel Gary to score the game winner and set off a celebration on Owen Field.
PITTSBURGH 27, No. 21 RUTGERS 6
PITTSBURGH (AP) — Tino Sunseri passed for 227 yards and two touchdowns in his final home game as Pittsburgh overwhelmed No. 21 Rutgers 27-6 on Saturday.
Ray Graham ran for 113 yards and a score for the Panthers (5-6, 2-4 Big East), who kept their hopes for bowl eligibility alive while drumming the Scarlet Knights.
Rutgers (9-2, 5-1) will still play No. 19 Louisville on Thursday with a Bowl Championship Series berth on the line, though the Scarlet Knights head home with little momentum after the Panthers dominated in their last game Heinz Field as a member of the Big East, racing to a 21-0 halftime lead and coasting.
Rutgers quarterback Gary Nova passed for 157 yards with a touchdown and an interception but the Scarlet Knights were never in it on a day the Panthers played like the team with everything on the line.
CONNECTICUT 23, No. 19 LOUISVILLE 20 3OT
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Chad Christen’s 30-yard field goal in the third overtime gave Connecticut a 23-20 upset of No. 19 Louisville on Saturday.
Blidi Wreh-Wilson set up the Huskies’ winning score by intercepting Teddy Bridgewater’s pass intended for DeVante Parker in the end zone. The Huskies ran three plays for 12 yards before Christen’s second OT kick gave Connecticut (5-6, 2-4 Big East Conference) its second straight win.
Louisville (9-2, 4-2) dropped its second straight but still has a chance for a BCS bowl bid by beating first-place Rutgers (9-2, 5-1) on Thursday.
Bridgewater completed 30 of 53 passes for 331 and two touchdowns but was sacked four times and broke his left wrist. He is expected to play against Rutgers.
No. 25 UTAH STATE 45, IDAHO 9
LOGAN, Utah (AP) — Chuckie Keeton passed for two touchdowns, Kerwynn Williams rushed for 110 yards and senior Will Davis returned an interception 59 yards for a touchdown as Utah State secured its first outright conference title in 76 years.
The Western Athletic Conference champion Aggies (10-2, 6-0) also earned their first 10-win season.
The Aggies intercepted Taylor Davis three times in the first half and forced him to fumble. Williams’ 52-yard run set up Keeton’s 3-yard TD pass to Kellen Bartlett early in the third quarter for a 28-9 advantage for the Aggies.
Williams added a 14-yard TD run in the fourth after opening the scoring with a 19-yard TD reception. Lou Groza Award finalist Trey Farquhar kicked field goals of 38, 46 yards and 52 yards — his 11th career field goal of 50 yards or more for Idaho (1-11, 1-5).