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Notre Dame eyeing undefeated home season

| Friday, Nov. 16, 2012, 9:02 p.m.

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Leaving barely enough time to take a breath, Kevin Ash ticked off all the permutations the race for a Rose Bowl bid could involve over the season's final couple of weeks.

And then he noted one of the juicy subplots over the regular season's final weeks: USC, with national title plans ruined, ruining not one but two championship dreams before it's done.

The Trojans could beat UCLA on Saturday to earn a spot in the Pac-12 title game. The next week, they could beat Notre Dame, ending the Irish's title hopes. The week after that, they could beat Oregon, almost assuredly gashing the Ducks' chances. All while basically having nothing better to do.

“It's really interesting,” Ash, the Rose Bowl's chief administrative officer, said. “It's almost a tapestry of games that are going to be played here in the next couple of weeks, and they all affect what could possibly go on.”

As of the moment, there are basically seven games left that will define the national championship chase, including No. 3 Notre Dame's final home tilt against Wake Forest on Saturday: Two games for the Irish. Two for Kansas State. Three for Oregon.

If Notre Dame wins both, it needs just one loss between the five Wildcats and Ducks games combined to slide into the BCS title game. If it loses either, the discussion is moot, which is why again there was no from-the-treetops discussion even before the middling Demon Deacons arrived.

“The only thing we talk about in terms of a goal (is) they want to go undefeated at home,” Irish coach Brian Kelly said. “That's really important to this group.

“They don't talk about 11-0 or 12-0 or national championships or bowl games or any of those things. They want to win this last home game because they want to be that group that went undefeated at home. That's what's important to them.”

At a glance, it would appear that Kansas State has the clearest path to an undefeated regular season. Collin Klein and Co. venture to Baylor on Saturday, and the Bears sport the worst defense in the Football Bowl Subdivision (519.78 yards allowed per game). A home game with Texas follows, but the Wildcats have two weeks to prepare for the Dec. 1 tilt.

Oregon, meanwhile, has three rugged games: Stanford on Saturday, at Oregon State and then a presumed home game for the Pac-12 title. Notre Dame still has a road trip to USC on Nov. 24 — the Trojans' first chance to play championship spoiler, against their most hated rival — which is as eminently winnable as it is losable.

“We know what we have to do,” Irish center Braxston Cave said. “As much as people want to push it away, every guy knows what's at stake.”

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