Notre Dame moves one win away from shot at title

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Notre Dame moves one win away from shot at title

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- There was no letdown, no signs of a trap, no heart-pounding finish, as there were in Waco and Eugene. Notre Dame's 38-0 win over Wake Forest was the first blowout the Irish built in South Bend, and it teed up next week's crucial matchup against USC in Los Angeles with an berth in the BCS Championship on the line.

With Kansas State's 52-24 loss to Baylor and Oregon's 17-14 loss to Stanford, it'll be with a BCS Championship berth on the line for the Irish, which will sit at No. 1 when the BCS standings are released Sunday. After Notre Dame's 38-0 win over Wake Forest, most players said they'd either have a passing interest or no interest at all in what Kansas State and Oregon were to do Saturday night.

"I'm not going to worry about it," linebacker Manti Te'o said. "I could literally just go eat, go to sleep, and wake up tomorrow and figure out what happened. I'm not too concerned."

Bet that stance has changed. Saturday was the first time since 2007 both Nos. 1 and 2 in the BCS have lost on the same weekend.

When Notre Dame sits at No. 1 in the poll Sunday, it'll be the first time the Irish have occupied the top spot in the AP poll since 1993. Notre Dame has never been No. 1 in a BCS poll.

That No. 1 ranking means all the Irish will have to do to reach the BCS Championship is beat USC, which lost 38-28 to crosstown rival UCLA Saturday. Adding misery to an already-disappointing season in Los Angeles was an injury to quarterback Matt Barkley, who reportedly suffered a separated shoulder against UCLA.

It was Notre Dame that was supposed to have the disappointing season, the one that put its coach on the hot seat. Not USC. But the script has played out with the roles reversed, with plenty calling for Kiffin's head in California while others effusively praising Kelly in Indiana. Notre Dame-USC will have championship implications, but not for the team most would've expected in August.

Despite an 11-0 record, Notre Dame has sat on the outside looking in of the BCS Championship picture for the entire season. First and foremost, Notre Dame needed to win out, but just as crucial to the team's title hopes was for the teams ahead of them to lose.

Texas A&M took care of half that equation last weekend, beating then-No. 1 Alabama in Tuscaloosa. On Saturday, it was Baylor downing K-State in Waco and Stanford winning in overtime on the road against Oregon.

"Coach has been telling us it's all going to work itself out, we just need to take care of what we can take care of," Notre Dame wide receiver John Goodman said. "That's what we did tonight, last week and the weeks before. So we're 11-0, that's all that really matters right now, we're going to go into USC 11-0 and hopefully leave 12-0."

A lack of style points -- or, more accurately, a few nail-biting home wins against lesser competition -- has been part of the reason why Notre Dame hasn't been among the top two teams in the BCS standings this year. At 11-0, though, Notre Dame players were far more concerned with their unblemished record than margin of victory.

"Where the hell did style points come from?" defensive tackle Louis Nix asked rhetorically. "I hate that. I don't believe in style points. I believe in winning, and that's what you do playing football. You don't need to do style points."

Notre Dame put up style points Saturday, with Everett Golson leading the way. The redshirt freshman completed 20 of 30 passes for 346 yards and three touchdowns in his best collegiate game, and Cierre Wood added 150 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries.

Still, Irish wide receiver T.J. Jones -- who caught six passes for 97 yards and a touchdown -- insisted "style points, to me, are irrelevant."

With K-State and Oregon's losses, those style points became exactly what Jones said they are -- irrelevant.

As Notre Dame climbed the BCS standings, coach Brian Kelly preached taking things one game at a time and not looking ahead to a larger goal. That cliche took on real meaning after Notre Dame nearly lost to Pittsburgh a week after beating Oklahoma by 17 in Norman, and it's one that'll persist among Irish coaches and players heading into Los Angeles.

"Our guys know what's at stake now," Kelly said after Notre Dame's win and before the two monumental losses ahead of them Saturday night. "This is about an undefeated season. They cannot do anything else but beat USC. The rest is up to other people to decide."

But Notre Dame has only beaten USC once in the last decade. Despite all the trials and tribulations at USC this year, they remain a talented team, one that certainly could spoil Notre Dame's title hopes on Nov. 24.

"We've got to take care of USC before we can be talking about what to do," linebacker Manti Te'o said. "We've got one more game to go. If we don't beat USC, there is no need to say whether you deserve it or not. You have to beat USC first."

Rangers win riveting goaltending duel over Blackhawks in overtime

Rangers win riveting goaltending duel over Blackhawks in overtime

When Scott Darling and Antti Raanta vied for the Blackhawks’ backup goaltending job two seasons ago, there was definitely a strong competition. But it was still one built on respect.

“We had no bad blood in that situation,” Darling said on Friday. “We’ve remained friends. He’s having a great season and I’m happy for him.”

On this night, Raanta may have been just a bit happier.

Raanta stopped all 26 shots he saw against his former team, notching his first shutout of this season, and Nick Holden gave the New York Rangers a 1-0 overtime victory over the Blackhawks on Friday night. The Blackhawks are 1-2-1 in their last four games but remain atop the Western Conference with 38 points.

The Blackhawks were missing Jonathan Toews, Brent Seabrook and Corey Crawford in this one. Nevertheless, it was a tight game, one in which both goaltenders were stellar. Darling stopped 36 of 37 shots – Holden’s overtime winner was the first goaltender allowed to New York in two games against them.

Considering the players missing, the Blackhawks will take the point.

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

“With or without Toews, you’re always thinking when it’s in the third period and it’s close and getting inside 10 minutes, let’s get it to overtime,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “We’ve seen a ton of overtimes in the league. You gotta get the one point. We’ve had some success trying to get the extra one. Tonight, not, but that’s got to be the mindset.”

The Blackhawks were close to taking the 1-0 lead six minutes into the third period, when Marian Hossa thought he scored his 15th goal of the season. But the Rangers challenged for offside. Upon further review, the goal was nullified.

“Well, obviously that’s a tough one,” Hossa said. “I mean, I didn’t notice it was close to offside but obviously with today’s technology, with this new rule, it’s a game of inches. It’s slowing the game down, I think. You’re getting confused, what exactly the coaches are looking for. They created this new rule and we just have to deal with it. But sometimes it’s more frustrating because the league wants to increase the scoring and right now, I think more goals are disallowed because of this.”

Hartman, who had the pass to Hossa, was also disappointed but agreed with the review’s ruling.

“You get your excitement up a little bit and you try not to get too ahead of yourself when you know they are reviewing it. You just try to see it as both ways, if they do call it a goal, if they call it back,” Hartman said. “Obviously it was the right call. It was just a tough one.”

The Blackhawks will take the point out of this one. Despite the players they were without they played a solid game. They had good, quality scoring chances. Their current backup was just slightly bested by their previous one.

“Both [goalies] were great, both [teams] had excellent looks at the net,” Quenneville said. “We missed some good opportunities on 2-on-1s and they had some good looks around Darling as well. Both guys got their teams to overtime, got a point. It’s a good point if you want to look at it like that. I didn’t mind the way we played but Darls was excellent.”

Blackhawks preparing for EPIX all-access look leading up to Winter Classic

Blackhawks preparing for EPIX all-access look leading up to Winter Classic

The 2017 Winter Classic featuring the Blackhawks and Blues is right around the corner.

Players from both sides already squared off in a game of NHL 17 to generate some hype into the game, but nothing compares to behind-the-scenes footage of the two teams leading up to it.

Beginning Dec. 16 at 9 p.m., EPIX will air a one-hour episode each week that provides an all-access look inside the lives of the Blackhawks and Blues, on and off the ice.

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

The game will be on Jan. 2 at 12 p.m. on NBC, with the final episode airing Friday, Jan. 6.

Here's a two-minute preview involving the Blackhawks, who are labeled "A Good Bunch of Guys."