NEW YORK — Notre Dame is a victory away from playing for the BCS title. Alabama and Georgia each need two, and could have to go through each other, and Florida has a slim shot at reaching the championship game.
A day after Oregon and Kansas State lost to give up control of the BCS race, the Fighting Irish (.9973) moved into first place in the standings for the first time. Notre Dame is also No. 1 in the Associated Press poll for the first time since 1993.
"Now we don't have to answer questions about style points or politics," Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said. "Now we have a chance to play for the national championship this week."
Notre Dame (11-0), ranked No. 1 in both polls and by the computer ratings, needs only to beat slumping rival Southern California on Saturday in Los Angeles to earn its first trip to the BCS title game.
USC announced Sunday night that quarterback Matt Barkley (sprained shoulder) is out. Max Wittek will make his first career start.
"I feel bad for him and his family," Trojans coach Lane Kiffin said. "This is obviously not how you want it to be."
Alabama (.9333) and Georgia (.8763) also have rivalry games Saturday. The Crimson Tide hosts Auburn and the Bulldogs play Georgia Tech at home.
If the favorites win, the SEC Championship Game will be a national semifinal of sorts, with the winner advancing to the BCS title game.
If form does not hold, and there are more upsets such as the ones that took out Oregon and Kansas State on Saturday night, there are a handful of teams that could be in the mix.
Florida (10-1) is fourth in the BCS standings. UF's possible path to the title game: Beat FSU on Saturday in Tallahassee, hope that Georgia falls to Georgia Tech then have the Bulldogs beat Alabama. UF's strength of schedule would be an advantage against other one-loss teams.
Tenth-place FSU (10-1) also has an ACC title game to play, though the Seminoles are hurt by a weak strength of schedule.
Oregon (10-1) dropped to fifth; Kansas State (10-1) was sixth.
"It's times like these that you wish you would have the right words to take the pain away," Oregon coach Chip Kelly said after Saturday's loss to Stanford. "But there are no words to do that."
Georgia coach Mark Richt's responses to questions about the wild weekend and how much it helped his Bulldogs?
Richt said, "I'm thinking we need to have a great week of preparation for Georgia Tech."
Later, he said, "Right this minute, all I can think about is Georgia Tech."
And, "Anybody want to talk about Georgia Tech?"
Notre Dame, which last won a national championship in 1988, has lost nine of the past 10 against USC, the lone victory coming in 2010, Kelly's first season as coach.
But the Trojans have been a major disappointment this season, starting it No. 1 and dropping to 7-4 after losing Saturday to UCLA.
If Notre Dame loses, it could leave a muddle of one-loss teams vying for a spot in the BCS title game, opening up the possibility of a second straight all-SEC national championship game.
Notre Dame's Kelly said players understood that the Irish might be in position to play for a title, but that nothing is guaranteed. This past weekend was proof of that.
"It doesn't mean much," Kelly said, "if you're No. 1 for just three or four days."