Thursday, November 22, 2007

Trojans back in the hunt for Rose Bowl berth

AP Sports Writer

LOS ANGELES (AP) - Southern California's dominance of the Pac-10 has to end at some point.

Or does it?

Coach Pete Carroll's 11th-ranked Trojans have won or shared a record five straight conference championships, and were overwhelming picks to make it six this season.

But a shocking 24-23 loss to 41-point underdog Stanford on Oct. 6 knocked the Trojans out of first place, and a 24-17 setback at Oregon three weeks later appeared to eliminate them from title contention.

Now, in keeping with this unpredictable season, USC is back in the mix entering Thursday night's game at No. 7 Arizona State - the Trojans' first Thanksgiving Day game since 1938.

``That's how football works. Anything can happen,'' Trojans tight end Fred Davis said Tuesday. ``If we finish like we're supposed to, we have a chance to play in the big game.''

Davis wasn't referring to the BCS championship game, as USC had hoped for and many had predicted before the season. He spoke of the Rose Bowl, which Carroll has emphasized is the team's goal every year.

Since the loss at Oregon, just about everything has gone the Trojans' way to vault them back into contention.

Should the Trojans (8-2, 5-2 Pac-10) beat the Sun Devils (9-1, 6-1), they'd move into a tie atop the conference standings. Arizona State and No. 9 Oregon (8-2, 5-2) would also have two losses, but the Ducks would win the tiebreaker by virtue of their victories over USC and ASU.

In that case, Oregon would have to beat UCLA on Saturday and rival Oregon State a week later to clinch the Rose Bowl berth.

Should USC beat ASU and the Dennis Dixon-less Ducks lose to UCLA, the Trojans would clinch the bid by beating the Bruins on Dec. 1.

A knee injury knocked Dixon out for the season, leaving Brady Leaf at quarterback for the Ducks. Carroll believes that'll make it much more difficult for Oregon this weekend.

``I think UCLA has a great chance against these guys because that's such a different change for them to go to,'' Carroll said. ``He's a totally different quarterback. He's a traditional pocket-style big guy. He's got a lot of great assets, it's just way different than what they've played.''

USC would also earn the Rose Bowl berth by winning its final two games if the Ducks lose to rival Oregon State in their finale.

``We're pumped to have an opportunity to win a conference championship,'' Carroll said. ``This is really an exciting time for us here to get ready for such a good matchup. We feel strong and are going to try to make the most of this.''

The Trojans have established a reputation as finishers under Carroll, going 22-0 in November games since he became their coach in 2001.

The Sun Devils are doing quite a job of finishing in their own right. After being outscored 83-36 in first quarters this year, they're outscoring the opposition 306-97 in the final three periods including 68-12 in fourth quarters.

``They started out slow at times and had games where they were trailing and considerably at times, and then came roaring back,'' Carroll said. ``They hang tough. They know they're going to play well at the end. They've played great second-half football and have not been wavered by their starts.

``This is a really good football team. It's a cool demonstration of what Dennis Erickson was able to do.''

Erickson, in his first year at ASU, previously coached at Washington State and Oregon State in the Pac-10.

``He's had a coach-of-the-year type of year, and you can just see the experience and the comfort that his team has and plays with,'' Carroll said. ``I think it's remarkable and really, really a job well done. It's hard to do that. I like what he's done.''

Should the Trojans win Thursday night, they'd be in a rare position - pulling for crosstown rival UCLA to beat Oregon.

Or would they?

``I'm not that far ahead yet, but I'll tell you, I might find it hard to do that, I'll tell you that,'' Carroll said with a smile.

Davis also avoided answering whether he'd be rooting for the Bruins.

``I'd be going against Oregon,'' he said. ``I don't think I'm supposed to cheer (for UCLA). I can only hope we can do what we're supposed to do. I can sit there and watch the game. It's a chance to get in.''

Defensive lineman Kyle Moore was more direct.

``I'd never cheer for UCLA,'' he said before pausing and adding: ``Then again. ... We're not even looking at it. We hold our own destiny. If we win our next two games, we put ourselves in a good position.''

Source:; Photo Credit: COLLEGIATE IMAGES