When Kelly was hired at Notre Dame three years ago, he looked at Alabama and the SEC, which has won six straight BCS titles, and decided the Irish needed to play like that.
Kelly built his reputation and winning teams at previous stops on fast-paced spread offenses. In South Bend, Ind., he has put the fight back in the Irish, who have won eight AP national titles — only Alabama has as many — but none since 1988.
Notre Dame has allowed the fewest touchdowns in the country (10) and is sixth overall in total defense (286 yards per game).
"It's clear that the formation of any great program is going to be on its defense," Kelly said. "If you play great defense you've got a chance. For us to move Notre Dame back into national prominence we had to develop a defense."
The face of the Irish isn't a strong-armed quarterback or speedy ball carrier. It's middle linebacker Manti Te'o, a 255-pound offense wrecker with a nose for the ball. The senior has seven interceptions and is a likely Heisman finalist.
Te'o, 300-pound linemen Stephon Tuitt and Louis Nix have formed a red-zone wall for the Irish. Late goal-line stands highlighted victories against Stanford and USC.
"This is just a good all-around football team with tremendous balance on offense and a very physical defense," Saban said.
In two years, college football switches to a four-team playoff to determine its champion, and a new way of filling the other marquee bowls. It probably won't cure everything that ails the postseason, but it's safe to say many won't miss the BCS.
Follow Ralph D. Russo at www.Twitter.com/ralphdrussoap
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.