Wojciechowski: Irish stave off BCS chaos

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.