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Notre Dame ranked No. 5 in first BCS standings

Quarterback Everett Golswas concussed against Stanford left game second half. Irish coach Brian Kelly expects Golsbe cleared play he should

Quarterback Everett Golson was concussed against Stanford and left the game in the second half. Irish coach Brian Kelly expects Golson to be cleared to play, and he should start against BYU. | Jonathan Daniel~Getty Images

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Updated: November 16, 2012 6:22AM

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — There’s no conference championship to play for at Notre Dame. No regular-season trophy, no consolation prizes. While the Big Ten and SEC play for conference titles, Irish independence means Irish idleness Dec. 1. For the only school in the country with its very own Bowl Championship Series tie-in, there’s really only one way to define regular-season success.

“We don’t have a tie-in from a conference standpoint, so if we’re talking about the postseason, the only thing we’re talking about is the Bowl Championship Series,” Irish coach Brian Kelly said. “Championship football for us at Notre Dame, you can make the conclusion that it equals BCS.”

Saturday’s victory over Stanford was Notre Dame’s third over a ranked opponent — no other school has more than two — and put the Irish in prime position to play in a BCS bowl for the first time since the end of the 2006 season, when they lost 41-14 to LSU in the Sugar Bowl.

The first BCS rankings of the season came out Sunday night, and the Irish found themselves at No. 5. Earlier in the day, they moved up two slots in each of the human polls to No. 5. The BCS’ Notre Dame rule stipulates that a top-eight ranking at season’s end will guarantee the Irish a trip to a BCS bowl game — either the Orange, Fiesta, Sugar or Rose bowls.

Notre Dame has two brutes left on the schedule — a trip to Oklahoma (No. 9 in the BCS) in two weeks and a trip to USC (No. 10) on Thanksgiving weekend to close the season. But what the Stanford victory did was clear a path for the Irish to get to a 10-2 mark by simply winning the games they’re supposed to win — against BYU, Pitt and Wake Forest at home and Boston College on the road. A 10-2 Notre Dame squad is a near lock to get selected for a BCS bowl, regardless of whether it automatically qualifies.

Kelly is borderline fanatical about keeping his players’ blinders on, but even he realizes such discussion is inescapable these days.

“They watch TV, they see that,” Kelly said of the rankings. “There’s a sense of pride. No question, when you’re talked about and you’re putting Notre Dame up there in the top five, there’s a sense of pride. I just have to make sure that with that pride, comes a greater obligation to do things the right way.”

It starts with handling business against BYU. The Cougars are ranked fifth nationally in total defense, and third against the run. So it could be another tough week for quarterback Everett Golson, who struggled mightily for much of the Stanford game before leaving in the second half with a concussion.

Kelly said he fully expects Golson — who was still symptomatic on Sunday — to be cleared by Tuesday — Wednesday at the absolute latest — and that the redshirt freshman should start Saturday against BYU. But the concussion likely will cut into some of his preparation time. And given the way Golson performed against the ferocious Stanford defense — he lost three fumbles, including one in the end zone that the Cardinal recovered for a touchdown and made several dangerous throws before rebounding nicely in the third and fourth quarters — he needs all the film study and practice work he can get.

“Very concerned,” Kelly said of how loose Golson has been with the football. “It’s something that obviously we cannot continue to have. He’s got to take better care of the football. He’s got to do it in practice and he’s got to be smarter.”

After all, as Saturday’s victory showed, it seems all the offense has to do is stay out of the way of a defense that hasn’t allowed a touchdown in four consecutive games, and has carried the Irish all the way to the top of the national polls, and back into the national consciousness.

“It’s huge,” tight end Tyler Eifert said. “The way they’ve been playing is unbelievable. If they can keep playing that way, we’ll have a good chance to go far.”

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