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Notre Dame

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Notre Dame
at USC
When: 8 p.m. today
TV: ABC
Radio: 1380 AM, 107.3 FM

No. 1 Irish try to avoid hype, focus on beating USC

– Louis Nix III has only seen it in pictures.

The 6-foot-3, 325-pound Notre Dame nose tackle refuses to go look at the giant “#1” sign that was lit on top of Grace Hall on campus when the Irish rose to No. 1 in the BCS standings, Associated Press Top 25 and USA Today coaches poll on Sunday.

“I avoid the No. 1 ranking,” Nix said. “All of that stuff doesn’t matter to me, because we still have one game left.”

That one game is a big one.

Notre Dame (11-0) travels to play rival USC (7-4) tonight. The Irish have a trip to the national championship game on the line, and they can complete their first perfect season since 1988 with a victory.

“It looks nice on the picture,” Nix said of the luminous No. 1 that lights up any time a Notre Dame team rises to the top of the rankings. “It will look better after the last game is done and the bowl game is done and it says No. 1. That is what I look forward to.”

Nix’s decision not to look at the sign that declares Notre Dame to be college football’s top team is just one example of how the Irish refuse to get caught up in the hype their accomplishments have brought this season.

Notre Dame began the season unranked, but after navigating what was declared the toughest schedule in the preseason without a loss and back-to-back weeks of No. 1 teams losing, the Irish are No. 1 for the first time since 1993.

The rise to college football’s highest perch hasn’t changed anything for the Irish.

“No. 1 for us is USC is going to play their very best because they’re playing No. 1,” coach Brian Kelly said. “I don’t think kids change when they’re No. 1. They go to work the same way. They practice the same way. The other teams are going to play their very best, but we get that every week anyway. We get the absolute best from our opponents each and every week. So for us, it’s business as usual.

“They’re going to play outstanding football; better be ready for USC’s best.”

Notre Dame wants to make sure it is not a one-week wonder in the No. 1 spot like Kansas State, which lost last week at Baylor after taking over the top spot in the BCS standings. Oregon was No. 1 in the AP and coaches poll for the first time this season last week and lost in overtime to Stanford.

“I think it’s the team chemistry, the way that we share a mentality to go out on the field and fight for four quarters, no matter the circumstances or what is at stake,” safety Zeke Motta said of how the Irish will be able to hold on to the No. 1 ranking for more than a week.

“Our team is more than capable of handling any task. It is definitely exciting for us right now. We really just focus on our preparation and improving day in and day out. That is the mentality that we share to be tough at heart and go out there and speak softly and carry a big stick.”

tkrausz@jg.net

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