LOS ANGELES (AP) - Seventh-ranked Southern California appears to have an excellent shot at going 11-1, an achievement that would have given the Trojans a berth in the national championship game last January.
Now, it might not even be good enough to put them in the Rose Bowl, much less the BCS title game. And that could be the case even if one-loss teams get in.
Yes, a year makes that much difference.
For one thing, there could be a handful of teams that finish with one loss or fewer. Nobody was perfect in a major conference last year, with Ohio State the only team to finish the regular season with one loss.
For another, the Pac-10 was pretty strong a year ago. That's definitely not the case now.
nd non-conference opponent Notre Dame (5-2), and road games against Stanford (4-4, 3-2) and crosstown rival UCLA (3-5, 2-3).
USC will be a solid favorite to beat all five of its upcoming opponents. In the case of Washington, the spread is 43 points. But beating those teams probably won't carry much weight in the BCS standings because of their so-so status.
To play in the Rose Bowl, the Trojans need somebody to beat Oregon State, since the Beavers (4-3, 3-1) handed USC its only loss, 27-21 in Corvallis last month.
If two BCS teams finish the season with perfect records, the Trojans have no chance of playing for the national championship. Even if No. 1 Texas, No. 2 Alabama, No. 3 Penn State and No. 6 Texas Tech all lose and it becomes a competition between one-loss teams, the mediocre Pac-10 could be the determining factor in eliminating USC.
The Big 12 has five ranked teams led by Texas - four in the top 10. The SEC has four ranked teams led by Alabama - three in the top 10. The Big Ten, led by Penn State, also has four ranked teams, and the Pac-10 has just two - USC and No. 23 Oregon.
Carroll know he has no control over the rankings, so he focuses his energies elsewhere.
eart of the Pac-10, right in the middle of this thing.
``We've got to keep moving forward, to improve. We see some areas that are really important to us, in particular the consistency on offense is something we're really striving for.''
USC leads the country in total defense (215.57 yards) and scoring defense (8l.1 points). The Trojans rank 13th in total offense (456.57 yards) and 14th in scoring offense (38.0 points), but their 17-point output against Arizona last weekend tied for the second-lowest total since late in the 2001 season.
``We had the penalty problems again this last week that were really slanted and slid against us,'' Carroll said. ``We gave up 10 penalties in the game. Our opponent only had one. We have to do way batter than that. There's a number of areas that we'll continue to emphasize. I'm not saying anything about the calls. We just have to do better.''
This isn't a good time to play USC no matter how good a team might be - the Trojans have a 23-0 record in the month of November since Pete Carroll became their coach in 2001.
``Finishing in everything we've ever done in this program has been of the utmost important,'' Carroll said Tuesday at his weekly meeting with reporters. ``Finishing everything that we do has really been a mantra for us. Right now, we kick into that mode for the end of the season as it approaches. The finish is under way. That's kind of how we talk.''
Offensive lineman Jeff Byers said the Trojans excel in November and beyond because of the way they practice.
``We're going to go out today in full pads and beat on each other,'' he said. ``I think coach Carroll is really unique in the way he practices. We're playing a game today. Guys don't let themselves get hurt. You take a day off at USC, you have a great player behind you. You get hurt when you're not going 100 percent and the other guys are.''
Washington coach Tyrone Willingham was fired Monday, effective at the end of the season. So the Trojans will be playing a team with a lame-duck coach this weekend.
``Pretty unusual situation, I'm sure, for those guys up there,'' Carroll said. ``It doesn't do anything to us, the fact that he'll be finishing out this season. We expect it will be an emotional outpouring I would think from this team, his players, efforts to show good things and try to get a good win, have some good stuff happen. We've gone against each other a number of times; have respected his work, the play of his teams, recruiting, all of that.''

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