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 LOS ANGELES (AP) -The most difficult part of No. 1 Southern California's schedule begins Saturday when the Trojans begin facing Pac-10 opponents.
The Pac-10 doesn't always get a lot of national respect, but USC has generally had a tougher time when facing league foes.
Last season, the Trojans beat Arkansas, Nebraska, Notre Dame and Michigan in the Rose Bowl by an average of 22 points per game. All but Nebraska finished in the Top 25, and the Cornhuskers barely missed.
Meanwhile, five of USC's nine Pac-10 games were decided by seven points or less, with two of them losses.
So far this season, the Trojans (2-0) have beaten visiting Idaho 38-10 before 90,917 at the Los Angeles Coliseum and then-No. 14 Nebraska 49-31 on the road last week in a game not nearly as close as the final score might indicate.
USC opens its conference schedule Saturday against Washington State (2-1) at the Coliseum, where the Trojans have won 34 straight games dating back to 2001. They beat WSU 28-22 in Pullman, Wash., last year.
``I think it's a statement about the quality of play in our conference,'' Trojans coach Pete Carroll said Tuesday regarding the close games against conference opponents last season. ``It's also a statement about the continuity of the coaches being around, maintaining their systems and gaining from the competition against one another.''
``We expect this to be very challenging, as is every game in this conference. You know, whether people on the outside recognize that or not, I don't really care. But we know what we're dealing with. This is a tough, tough road every single week. And Washington State, they're going to show you, they're a really good team.''
The Trojans are shooting for an unprecedented sixth straight Pac-10 championship. They're 61-6 since the beginning of the 2002 season, including 37-4 against conference opponents.
Washington State coach Bill Doba feels the same way Carroll does regarding the strength of the Pac-10.
``Anybody in one of those (other) conferences want to jump in, they can certainly try. I don't care,'' Doba said Tuesday during a conference call. ``I know Florida is good, so is LSU, but after what Oregon did to Michigan. ... and Arizona State is winning. There is just not a weak sister.''
Pac-10 schools are 20-6 against nonconference foes this season.
The Trojans dominated the line of scrimmage against Nebraska, rushing for 313 yards on 38 carries. John David Booty passed for only 144 yards, but that didn't matter much.
``I think we caught them off-guard a little bit,'' Carroll said. ``We had some real advantages with the way they were flowing on the different things we did - gave us a chance to get the ball into the secondary. Then, the running backs did a great job.
``I really think it was more up front than the running backs in this deal. I don't mean to take anything away from them. The holes were really there.''
No back carried the ball more than 12 times at Nebraska, and Carroll indicated that approach will continue.
``We're going to keep mixing,'' he said. ``I think we're fortunate to have a lot of guys contributing. I'm not in any sense of urgency or feel impatient about having to make some decisions or declarations in all this. Right now, we like the way this is working out.''
With that, he mentioned five tailbacks - Chauncey Washington, Stafon Johnson, C.J. Gable, Allen Bradford and Joe McKnight - who figure to play against Washington State.
In addition, Carroll praised the work of fullback Stanley Havili, who gained 52 yards on two carries and caught three passes for 22 yards at Nebraska.
``We're going to continue to work it to him, make you have to defend Stanley as well as the other guys,'' Carroll said. ``Very versatile player that we're really having fun mixing stuff up to get him involved.''
Carroll said he'd like the offense to become more balanced. USC has gained 527 yards on the ground and 350 through the air in the first two games.
``John David is doing a great job,'' Carroll said. ``I'm disappointed we dropped the ball a little bit on offense. The ball is on the ground too much. We need to get the ball caught when we get our opportunities. I know that can be fixed and righted.''

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