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 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.
“Well, that’s who we are," Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said. “It’s been our defense all year. Our offense is able to manage enough points."
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 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 — and he took particular pride in that last defensive stand, which included three straight Trojans runs resulting in nothing.
“It doesn’t matter where the ball is," Te’o said. “We’re going to protect the end zone at all costs."
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.
“They’ve had a great goal-line defense all year," USC coach Lane Kiffin said. “They’ve done that to everybody down on the goal line. ... It’s just so hard to score touchdowns versus them. When the ball is on the 2-inch line, you’d think you could score touchdowns."
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 a Southeastern Conference opponent in Miami, but won’t know for another week which one. Alabama and Georgia play for the SEC title in Atlanta.
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.
Also on Saturday:
No. 2 Alabama 49
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — AJ McCarron passed for four touchdowns and Eddie Lacy rushed for 131 yards and two scores in the most lopsided Iron Bowl in 64 years. The Crimson Tide (10-1, 7-1 Southeastern Conference) clinched the Western Division title outright and a spot in the conference title game against No. 3 Georgia, with the winner likely getting a national championship shot.
No. 3 Georgia 42
Georgia Tech 10
ATHENS, Ga. — Aaron Murray threw two touchdown passes, Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall each ran for a pair of TDs, and Georgia (11-1) stayed right in the thick of the national championship race.
No. 4 Ohio State 26
No. 20 Michigan 21
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Carlos Hyde ran for 146 yards and Ohio State’s defense shut out Michigan in the second half to complete a 12-0 season. Ohio State is ineligible for the BCS national title but still has an outside shot at finishing No. 1 in the Associated Press Top 25.
No. 6 Florida 37
No. 10 Florida State 26
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Mike Gillislee ran for two touchdowns and the Gators beat their rivals. Florida (11-1) 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.
No. 9 Texas A&M 59
COLLEGE STATION, Texas — Johnny Manziel threw for 372 yards and three touchdowns and ran for two more scores in his last chance to make a Heisman statement for the Aggies (10-2, 6-2 SEC).
No. 13 South Carolina 27
No. 12 Clemson 17
CLEMSON, S.C. — Backup quarterback Dylan Thompson threw for three touchdowns, Jadeveon Clowney had 41⁄2 sacks and South Carolina (10-2) won its fourth straight over Clemson (10-2).
No. 14 Oklahoma 51
No. 22 Oklahoma State 48
NORMAN, Okla. — 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.
No. 21 Rutgers 6
PITTSBURGH — Tino Sunseri passed for 227 yards and two touchdowns in his final home game as Pittsburgh overwhelmed Rutgers (9-2, 5-1 Big East).
No. 19 Louisville 20
LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Chad Christen’s 30-yard field goal in the third overtime gave Connecticut the upset over Louisville (9-2, 4-2 Big East).
No. 25 Utah State 45
LOGAN, Utah — 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 (10-2, 6-0 Western Athletic) secured its first outright conference title in 76 years.
No. 25 Mississippi State 24
OXFORD, Miss. — Bo Wallace threw for 294 yards and five touchdowns, Donte Moncrief caught three TD passes and Mississippi (6-6, 3-5 SEC) snapped a three-game losing streak in the Egg Bowl.