Alabama is a top-ranked no-brainer. It is the defending national champ and has steamrolled all comers. It is as close to a lock to make the BCS title game as you can find in late October.
The other title-game team is less certain. Check that. It's certain in my AP poll. I have the Irish (8-0) as a strong No. 2 by virtue of a rib-rocking defense. Barring an upset, that won't change the rest of the season.
Defense, as the cliché goes, wins championships.
In the BCS standings, which determined the national title game opponents, Kansas State (8-0) is No. 2 with Notre Dame at No. 3 and Oregon (8-0) at No. 4.
Notre Dame has survived a rugged schedule that included Michigan State, Michigan, Miami of Florida, Stanford and, last Saturday, Oklahoma. The Irish were at their best against the Sooners, whose dynamic offense was turned into mush. Notre Dame won 30-13 in Oklahoma, a performance that earned the Irish the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl National Team of the Week honors.
Critics will say that Notre Dame only has one decent team left on its schedule — disappointing USC. That game is set for Nov. 24 in Los Angeles.
Granted, Pittsburgh, Boston College and Wake Forest aren't superpowers, but they aren't patsies, either. Boston College, in particular, has been a problem in the last decade or so.
Oregon does have a tougher closing schedule with USC, California, Stanford and Oregon State. Kansas State has a far easier path with Oklahoma State, TCU, Baylor and Texas.
While Oregon and Kansas State are powerful teams with national title merit, Notre Dame gets No. 2 billing because it has a better defense. Linebacker Manti Te'o is a force of nature. He rocked Oklahoma with 11 tackles (two for losses) and an interception, just as he has every Irish opponent to date.
Nearly as dominating as Te'o is 326-pound nose tackle Louis Nix. Then there's 6-6, 303-pound defensive end Stephon Tuitt and a secondary that gave Oklahoma quarterback Landry Jones fits all night.
If you like stats, Notre Dame ranks No. 2 nationally in scoring defense, allowing 9.9 points. Alabama is first at 8.2. Kansas State is No. 13 at 17.1. Oregon is No. 24 at 19.4.
The Irish are No. 11 in total defense (293.0 yards allowed) while Kansas State is No. 30 and Oregon is No. 35. Notre Dame is No. 9 in run defense (95.3 yards allowed). Kansas State is No. 14. Oregon is No. 39.
Alabama, by the way, is No. 1 in those categories, as well.
Yes, Oregon (a national-leading 53.4-point average) and Kansas State (No. 5 at 44.4) have far better offenses than Notre Dame (No. 75 at 26.4), but you won't beat Alabama with offense.
The Irish have the defense to contain the Crimson Tide's balanced attack. They are as mentally tough as any team in the country (consider the goal-line stand against Stanford as the prime example). They have a demanding coach (Brian Kelly) who knows how to maximize talent.
That's what makes them the nation's No. 2 team. That's what just might win them a national championship.