Notre Dame is a victory away from playing for the BCS title. Alabama and Georgia each need two, and could have to go through each other.
A day after Oregon and Kansas State lost to give up control of the BCS race, the Fighting Irish (.9973) moved into first place in the standings for the first time.
''Now we don't have to answer questions about style points or politics,'' Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said. ''Now we have a chance to play for the national championship this week.''
Notre Dame (11-0), ranked No. 1 in both polls and by the computer ratings, needs only to beat slumping rival Southern California on Saturday in Los Angeles to earn its first trip to the BCS title game.
Alabama (.9333) and Georgia (.8763) also have rivalry games Saturday. The Crimson Tide hosts Auburn and the Bulldogs play Georgia Tech at home.
If the favorites win, the Southeastern Conference championship game will be a national semifinal of sorts, with the winner advancing to the BCS title game.
If form does not hold, and there are more upsets such as the ones that took out Oregon and Kansas State on Saturday night, there are a handful of teams that could be in the mix.
Florida (10-1) is in fourth heading into a huge game at 10th-place Florida State. The Seminoles (10-1) also will have an ACC title game to play.
Oregon (10-1) dropped to fifth and Kansas State (10-1) was sixth.
Notre Dame, which last won a national championship in 1988, has lost nine of the last 10 against USC, the lone victory coming in 2010, Kelly's first season as coach.