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Notre Dame is No. 1 — on head coach Brian Kelly’s ballot

Dan Fox (left) Bennett Jacks(right) congratulate Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o after his interceptifourth quarter against BostCollege. | Winslow Townson~AP

Dan Fox (left) and Bennett Jackson (right) congratulate Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o after his interception in the fourth quarter against Boston College. | Winslow Townson~AP

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Updated: December 13, 2012 10:37AM

Brian Kelly believes he has the best college football team in the country.

His peers disagree.

Kelly voted the Irish No.  1 on his coaches’ poll ballot, the only coach to do so. No.  1 Oregon got 44 first-place votes, and No. 2 Kansas State garnered 14. Notre Dame is third in the poll and third in the BCS standings (Kansas State is No. 1, Oregon No. 2) as Alabama fell to No. 5 after its loss to Texas A&M on Saturday.

The reason Kelly believes his team is the best is because the numbers say his defense is the best. And Kelly, long known for his offensive-minded approach, is now a firm believer that defense wins championships.

‘‘The distinction of this team is it’s the No. 1 scoring defense in the country,’’ he said. ‘‘It’s proven that against very good teams all year. If you look at national championship-caliber football, you’ve got to look at a defense. That’s why we feel strongly that our football team has put [itself] in the discussion.’’

Saturday’s 21-6 win over Boston College was the latest example of the Irish’s defensive prowess, as they held a team out of the end zone for the fifth time this season. The Irish — tied with Alabama atop the charts, allowing a scant 11.1 points per game — have given up just nine offensive touchdowns in 10 games. No other team has allowed fewer than 14.

And while the Eagles have one of the lowest-scoring offenses in the nation, they reached deep into their bag of tricks to try to catch the Irish off-balance.

‘‘You thought you were at Disney World,’’ Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o said. ‘‘There were Mickey Mouse plays everywhere.’’

It didn’t work.

‘‘I think they ran every play imaginable,’’ Kelly said. ‘‘Our guys, defensively, saw so many different plays tonight, but they kept fighting and kept them out of the end zone.’’

Te’o chalked it up to a disciplined performance.

‘‘Everybody did their job,’’ he said. ‘‘Nobody really stepped out of the framework of the defense, even though there were some reverses, screens, a lot of those types of plays.’’

Boston College actually moved the ball effectively at times. But the Irish regained the bend-but-don’t-break mentality that worked so well at Oklahoma, only allowing the Eagles one trip into the red zone and holding them to two field goals all night.

Outside linebacker Prince Shembo had a lot to do with it, coming up with three sacks for a combined loss of 26 yards. After BC got to the Notre Dame 9 early on with a chance to tie the game at 7-7, Shembo sacked Chase Rettig on third down. Shembo added another third-down sack deep in Irish territory in the fourth quarter, then had a sack and a fumble recovery on separate plays on BC’s last drive of the game.

With the Eagles focused on stopping defensive end Stephon Tuitt, who has 10 sacks, Shembo took advantage.

‘‘Just chasing quarterbacks,’’ Shembo said. ‘‘That’s all.’’

The Irish can expect similar kitchen-sink efforts from Wake Forest and USC. They also cab expect to have at least one first-place vote in the coaches’ poll, as long as they keep winning. Kelly stood by his vote and scoffed at the idea that ND wins ugly, pointing to his defense and his schedule as his ‘‘style points.’’

‘‘If people don’t like us winning,’’ Kelly said, ‘‘I don’t know what else to tell you.’’

NOTE: Wide receiver DaVaris Daniels will miss the last two games of the regular season after undergoing surgery to repair a broken clavicle suffered in the third quarter Saturday. Kelly said Daniels, his third-leading receiver, is expected to be able to play in ND’s bowl game.

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