NCF Nation: Irish-Trojans-112412

LOS ANGELES -- You could hear the weeping from one end of the country to the next. From Gainesville, Fla., all the way to Eugene, Ore.

If you're a one-loss team not named Alabama or Georgia, your BCS national championship balloon was punctured for good Saturday evening at the Coliseum. Holding the working end of a knitting needle: Notre Dame.

The Fighting Irish squeezed past USC, 22-13, to put a very green bow on a season that began with modest expectations (by us, not them) and ended with an undefeated record and a No. 1 ranking. Best of all, Notre Dame is going to play in a national title game for the first since ... ?

"Yeah, I think it was 1987 or '88?" said running back Theo Riddick, who cradled a game ball in his left arm.

It was 1988, three years before Riddick was even born.

"I wasn't even thought of," said Riddick, laughing.

Neither was Notre Dame back in August. The Irish were such football afterthoughts that they weren't even ranked in the Associated Press preseason top 25. The coaches had them at only No. 24, probably just to be polite.

"Are you sure about that?" said Riddick. "Really?"

Yes, really. In fact, there's a certain sweet symmetry to how things worked out: The unranked team at season's beginning beats a USC team ranked No. 1 in that same AP preseason poll.

So the Irish are in. They're in because they're the only 12-0 team not serving time in the NCAA big house. Ohio State also finished the regular season with a dozen wins and zero losses, but that, and an autograph from Brutus, gets you nothing.

For Gene Wojciechowski's full column, click here.
Things haven't been ending well for USC quarterbacks lately.

Max Wittek's career began somewhat like Matt Leinart's ended, squeezed by the extraordinary frustration of not being able to pick up a few inches on fourth down.

That was an improvement over how things may have wrapped up for Matt Barkley, who walked down the tunnel for the last time at the Coliseum -- in the most electric atmosphere this season -- without a helmet. He had walked up it a few hours later in a sweatsuit, struggling to keep his gear bag from slipping off his injured right shoulder.

What do the three Trojans quarterbacks have in common, aside from having attended the same Orange County high school? For much of their college careers, they relied on Lane Kiffin to call plays for them. And USC fans will be howling about the way Kiffin handled the end of Saturday's epic opportunity against top-ranked Notre Dame.

On first and goal from the 1, Kiffin tried to sneak Wittek in. He got nowhere.

He tried the same thing again on second down. He got nowhere.

After burning a timeout, he tried giving the ball to Curtis McNeal, who got -- yes, that’s right -- nowhere.

Finally, eschewing a field-goal try that likely would have made it a one-score game, he allowed Wittek to attempt a forward pass. The redshirt freshman with the big arm got a bit flustered, throwing it a little too low, a little too firmly, to fullback Soma Vainuku. It was incomplete ... and a disappointing season got just a little more disappointing.

For Mark Saxon's full ESPNLosAngeles.com column, click here.

Instant Analysis: Irish 22, USC 13

November, 24, 2012
11/24/12
11:28
PM ET

LOS ANGELES -- Notre Dame is going to the national title game. The Irish took care of business Saturday night at USC, 22-13, and they can book their tickets to South Florida, where they will likely play the winner of next week's SEC title game. USC, meanwhile, ended its disappointing regular season with loss No. 5.

Here's how the action inside the Coliseum went down.

It was over when: USC ran eight plays inside the 10-yard line, including penalties, and Notre Dame stopped the Trojans -- getting the ball back with 2:33 left and a nine-point lead. Typical Irish defense.

Game ball goes to: Theo Riddick carried the Irish every step of the way, rushing for 146 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries.

Stat of the game: Notre Dame averaged 5.3 yards per carry, marching up and down the field successfully before several red zone gaffes.

It's game day at the Coliseum

November, 24, 2012
11/24/12
7:53
PM ET
LOS ANGELES -- Greetings from sunny California, where both Notre Dame and USC are on the field warming up as the fans start to fill the stadium.

Great atmosphere here tonight, as it genuinely feels like a bowl game. There are a ton of Notre Dame fans here, far too many for me to estimate, and the place has been loud already with fans from both schools.

Of course, it is somewhat of a playoff game for the Irish tonight, as a victory clinches a berth in the BCS national title game. We had this game circled back in the summer for similar reasons, but who knew that USC would be playing the role of spoiler?

Not a whole lot to report from the travel roster. Gunner Kiel didn't travel for the second time this season (he also missed the Oklahoma game), and true freshman reserve long-snapper Scott Daly did travel, for I believe the first time.

We are situated to the right of USC's jumbotron and, well, it is loud. Wonder what one of those bad boys would look and sound like in Northwest Indiana …

I'll be tweeting throughout the night, so you can follow along here. We're also chatting on CoveritLive all night, and I'll be in there in the first and third quarters. Drop by and say hello.

As always, breaking news and postgame reaction will be posted here in the blog, so be sure to check back here. It will be a heavy reaction one way or another, that much we know.

Enjoy.

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