STANFORD, Calif. (AP) – Charlie Weis finds no reason to campaign for a Bowl Championship Series bid. As far as he is concerned, Notre Dame has done more than enough to show it deserves to be recognized as one of the country’s top teams.

Three representatives from the Fiesta Bowl had an up-close view of the Fighting Irish’s thrilling 38-31 victory over Stanford that all but wrapped up Notre Dame’s first BCS bid in five years.

“When you get yourself into position to be picked one of the top eight teams in the country, that’s a very strong statement for your program,” Weis said. “I’m not into politicking. We’re 9-2 and one of the best teams in the country, and we’re going to be in one of the BCS games. I’m not worried about all those other teams, because we’re going to go somewhere and we’re going to make one of those games proud.”

Assuming top-ranked Southern California and No. 2 Texas each win their games next week to set up a title-game clash in the Rose Bowl, the Fiesta Bowl will have the first choice among the other BCS bowls to pick an unattached team.

With No. 7 Notre Dame’s national following and compelling story with Weis directing a turnaround season, the Irish appear to be an easy choice to play in Tempe, Ariz., on Jan. 2.

“It’s a big step for us getting back into the groove, going back to a BCS game,” cornerback Mike Richardson said. “Having all the media and the hype, Notre Dame’s back. I’m just glad we put ourselves in this position.”

The fans have been expecting it for weeks now, putting pressure on the Irish to reach the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl by tossing tortilla chips onto the field after a 34-10 victory against Syracuse on Nov. 19.

Even Weis learned something about his team in the waning moments on a chilly night at Stanford Stadium.

The Irish were tied at 14 at halftime and Brady Quinn had already thrown two interceptions after being picked off only five times in the first 10 games. The Cardinal were matching Notre Dame’s energy on both sides of the ball as the teams traded big plays.

Weis told his players to keep their cool, and they did just that. The Irish believe in their first-year coach, and when Stanford took a 31-30 lead on T.C. Ostrander’s 4-yard touchdown pass to Matt Traverso with 1:46 left, the Irish efficiently went back to work.

Quinn calmly led Notre Dame down the field, and Darius Walker scored the winning touchdown with 55 seconds left. Then, the Irish defense kept the Cardinal from staging another comeback try.

Weis, who helped the New England Patriots win three Super Bowls as offensive coordinator, contends that a decade ago he might not have had what it took to lead his team to a last-minute victory the way he did against Stanford.

“The thing is, because the head coach has been in this kind of situation before, it has a soothing effect on your team because they never lose their composure,” Weis said. “A lot of teams would lose their composure.

“Ten years ago, I would have been a raving maniac. But it’s a little different now, and I like to think that rubs off on our players.”

Walker finished with a career-high 186 yards on 35 carries and Jeff Samardzija had nine catches for a career-high 216 yards and two touchdowns – extending his school record for TD receptions in a season to 15. Maurice Stovall had seven catches for 136 yards and a TD.

Notre Dame gained 663 yards of total offense, including 432 passing yards by Quinn. Walker became the school’s ninth player to rush for 1,000 yards in a season.

“It seems Notre Dame gets better every week,” Walker said.

“We’ve played well enough to get the BCS bid.”

But when the Cardinal, who finished 5-6 and missed a bowl berth in Walt Harris’ first season, threatened until the final tick of the clock expired, more than a few Irish players couldn’t help but think of the consequences if this one went Stanford’s way.

Hello, Gator Bowl!

“Stanford played us tougher than almost anyone we’ve played,” left guard Dan Santucci said. “They fought hard from the first play to the last. That makes this a fantastic feeling.”

Notre Dame won its final five games after a 34-31 loss to USC on Oct. 15, beating Stanford for the fourth straight time.

“We know what type of team we have and what caliber we have,” Stovall said. “A lot of people are surprised we came this far.”

AP-ES-11-27-05 1647EST


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