For Notre Dame, the formula equals a trip to the BCS Championship

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For Notre Dame, the formula equals a trip to the BCS Championship

LOS ANGELES -- Braxston Cave let out a primal scream, pointing to the legions of delirious Notre Dame fans crowding the front rows of the stands at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Carlo Calabrese raced up and down the wall, high-fiving anyone with a free hand and a Notre Dame jersey. Manti Te'o and Brian Kelly, the emotional leader and coach, embraced in the tunnel leading away from the field where Notre Dame beat USC 22-13, securing an undefeated regular season and berth in the BCS Championship Jan. 7 in Miami.

"We set out this season to build our program and get it back in to the national discussion when you're talking about championship programs," Kelly said after the game. "And we're in that discussion."

Notre Dame isn't just in the discussion. They're at the center of it, with the winner of next week's SEC Championship between No. 2 Alabama and No. 3 Georgia awaiting in South Beach.

The Irish got to that point by doing what they've done all year on Saturday. A stout defense effort was punctuated by another miraculous goal-line stand, with Notre Dame keeping USC out of the end zone on four tries from inside the one-yard line late in the fourth quarter. Theo Riddick shed countless tackles and gained 146 yards with a touchdown on 20 physical carries. And Everett Golson didn't put up a flashy stat line, but didn't turn the ball over.

That's exactly the formula that got Notre Dame to where they are today, and that's a spot in the BCS Championship.

"It was just football at its best, you know," safety Zeke Motta beamed.

But that formula hasn't been perfected yet, despite a perfect record. Kyle Brindza had to kick six field goals -- he hit five -- as Notre Dame consistently left points on the board, allowing USC to stay within striking distance until the dying embers of the game.

"We definitely have to improve," Riddick said. "We're not there yet, we don't feel like it. We're going to go back next week, look at the tape, figure out what we can get better at and do that during that week. We have time. Coach Kelly is going to set up some things to actually let us score touchdowns, because we have to. We have to get better at that being in the red zone. We're going to do that, and we're going to be okay."

The on-field formula still needs work, as plenty will be quick to point out when the Irish open as underdogs to either Alabama or Georgia. But big-picture, Notre Dame's formula for success is clear. It's also one few predicted would work in today's college football landscape.

"What's so exciting for us is to be in this year that we're No. 1 in the nation in graduation success rate, to be ranked No. 1 in the BCS and go to the championship game. No one's ever done that before," athletic director Jack Swarbrick said. "And that's the proof of concept for us. That's always been what the goal was and what we were about. To be able to pull it off, this year, another important game to go -- but to get to this point, proving you can do it the way we do it is incredibly galvanizing and rewarding for us."

Few expected Notre Dame to be here, certainly not as soon as 2012. Even Swarbrick admitted he thought 2013 was going to be the year Kelly and the Irish finally broke through. But despite a greenhorn quarterback, a pair of injuries to starters in the secondary and plenty of near-misses at home, make no mistake: Notre Dame is back.

"I was just speechless, man," Riddick said of his thoughts when the clock hit zero. "I was just in shock. It was like a dream come true."

In a historical context, Notre Dame's win was probably shocking. The Irish haven't won a game this big in nearly a quarter of a century. But nothing went terribly wrong, like things did in 1993. There were no crippling turnovers, the likes of which stamped out any hopes of Notre Dame taking a step forward in 2011. This is 2012, and Notre Dame won in Notre Dame fashion. That's hardly surprising.

"This was another clear indication of how we got to 12-0," Kelly said. "Our guys have incredible resolve, regardless of the circumstances, of coming up and finding ways to win. That's all we talk about. We don't talk about style points, anything else, just find ways to win. And these guys continue to do that."

Bobby Portis relishing his chance as starter

Bobby Portis relishing his chance as starter

A milk carton was a more likely place to find Bobby Portis than on a basketball floor playing big minutes for the majority of his second season.

He could often be found in the locker room before games and listening to the older players talk to the media afterward, trying his best to fight off the frustration and admitted confusion that comes with the regression of not getting playing time.

When Portis did play, he looked nothing like the confident and borderline cocky rookie who often referred to himself in the third person in interviews. He didn't know when he would play, how long he would be out there or even worse, what was expected of him.

The trade of Taj Gibson at the deadline — preceded by the temporary benching of Nikola Mirotic — put Portis back in the spotlight and he's intent on making the most of it during the last 23 games of the regular season.

"It's fun. You know go out there every day just to know that it's another day I'm going to play," Portis said. "That's the biggest thing for me. I feel like that's already a confidence builder right there, just coming into every game knowing that I'm in the rotation. It's great fun to go out there and play."

It's no secret the front office the Bulls want Portis to succeed and not add him to the ledger of some of the first-round disappointments that can be recalled in recent memory.

The trade of Gibson was certainly underlined with the mantra that Portis should play and the way was going to be cleared for Portis, one way or another. Scoring 19 with eight rebounds against the Celtics on national TV right before the All-Star break probably gave Portis enough validation considering he was thrust into the starting lineup at power forward soon after.

"I don't care about nobody judging me," Portis said. "At the end of the day I'm going to play basketball. That's my job. I'm going to go out there and do the things I do well. I feel like sometimes people misconstrue just because you don't play and they can say some things like that. I don't really care about anybody judging me at this point. At the end of the day I'm still going to be Bobby Portis at the end of the day."

Well, clearly, the third person thing hasn't left the second-year forward, but he said he stayed in the gym waiting on his opportunity, even through a quick but confusing stint to Hoffman Estates to the D-League.

"Just being hungry. Humble and hungry," Portis said. "You know one thing I always strive off of is being humble and hungry. That kept me sane. My mom, I talked to her a lot. She kept me grounded. It's kind of tough not playing and going through the season knowing that some games you might play, you might not play. You know it's about waiting your turn, but at the same time you have to keep working."

Being the fifth big in Fred Hoiberg's rotation didn't leave him a lot of room for Portis to get much run or even find a rhythm, and like many others who've found themselves out of the rotation unexpectedly, it was without much of an explanation.

"Nah, I didn't really know what I could do to get minutes," Portis said. "The one thing that I know that I always do is just come in here every day, work as hard as I can, let the dominos fall how they fall. Every day I come in here, just bust my butt for some minutes, but sometimes it wouldn't work."

Now that he has found himself into Hoiberg's good graces, his improving range has allowed both units to play similiarly.

"I think Bobby has done a real nice job," Hoiberg said. "He was a huge part of our win against Boston in our game right before the break. He just goes out and plays with so much energy. What I really like about him right now is he has no hesitation on his shot. He's stepping into his 3 with good rhythm."

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Bears will not use franchise tag on Alshon Jeffery

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Bears will not use franchise tag on Alshon Jeffery

In this episode of the SportsTalk Live Podcast David Haugh (Chicago Tribune), Nick Friedell (ESPNChicago.com) and Danny Parkins (670 The Score) join David Kaplan on the panel.

NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport reports that the Bears will not use the franchise tag on Alshon Jeffery for the second straight year. Is that the right move? And what will Ryan Pace do with all of his team’s cap space?

The Bulls are winning but their new, young point guard doesn’t know his role. Will anything ever change with the Bulls?

That plus Scott Paddock drops by to recapping a thrilling Daytona 500 finish.

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below: