LOS ANGELES (AP) - A week after his team lost at Oregon, Pete Carroll was rooting for the Ducks against Arizona State.
It wasn't as if the Southern California coach had anything against the Sun Devils. It was simply a matter of what would be best for the Trojans.
``Yeah, exactly. That was a good day, yeah,'' Carroll replied with a grin when asked Tuesday if he was glad No. 3 Oregon beat No. 9 ASU last weekend. ``It's going to be a great finish here. You don't know what's going to happen. Just when you get to the Arizona-Arizona State game, the Oregon-Oregon State game, you get those matchups, and the UCLA game at the end.
``Those games, anything happens in those games because of the great rivalries and stuff.''
No. 12 USC (7-2, 4-2 Pac-10) is tied with UCLA in the conference standings, one game behind co-leaders Oregon and Arizona State.
Should USC finish the season by winning road games at No. 24 California and ASU and a home game against UCLA, the Trojans would be in line to play in the Rose Bowl should Oregon get a bid to play in the BCS championship game.
That could happen if the Ducks finish with wins at Arizona and UCLA and at home against Oregon State and either No. 1 Ohio State or No. 2 LSU falters.
Should Oregon lose at least once, it gets complicated. But if that happens and the Trojans win out, they'd earn at least a share of their sixth straight conference title.
``It will be an exciting finish for everybody. I hope,'' Carroll said. ``This is really the fourth quarter of the season for us, and we talked about last week how we really want to be at our best here and try to really make a big push to finish strong.''
When the season began, it appeared Saturday night's USC-Cal matchup would be the Pac-10 game of the year. To date, that honor goes to the ASU-Oregon game.
``I know that they're trying to get their season right, we're trying to get our season right and it's a great matchup for us,'' Carroll said. ``When you play these guys, you're getting their players' best shot all the time. There has been a new history written a little bit about us playing against each other that's made for great matchups.''
Cal (6-3, 3-3) appeared on its way to a No. 1 ranking before being upset 31-28 by Oregon State on Oct. 13. The Golden Bears lost their next two games, at UCLA and Arizona State, before bouncing back to beat Washington State 20-17 last Saturday night.
Carroll said he didn't know what happened to the Bears, but added: ``The conference is tough. Everybody's struggling every game to get their wins. It ain't over yet - there are a lot of big matchups coming up in the last month of the season.''
Carroll expressed the hope the Trojans would become more productive offensively down the stretch.
``There's been a continuity issue,'' Carroll said. ``It took us a while to uncover what Stafon Johnson brought to us. Then he got banged up.''
Johnson, a 6-foot-0, 210-pound sophomore, has gained 471 yards on 63 carries for a 7.5-yard average. He gained 144 yards on 11 carries in a 49-31 win at Nebraska, 48 yards on nine carries in a 47-14 triumph over Washington State, and 122 yards on 14 carries in a 27-24 victory at Washington before missing two games because of a sprained left foot. He has been limited in the last three games, carrying a total of 17 times for 93 yards.
``Stafon Johnson ran full speed yesterday,'' Carroll said. ``This is the best Monday he's had. It's just been back and forth with him.''
Quarterback John David Booty missed three games due to a broken middle finger on his throwing hand before passing for 157 yards and two touchdowns in a 24-3 win over Oregon State last weekend.
The Trojans have had to use a makeshift offensive line at times because of injuries, and their young wide receivers have been erratic.
``We have a chance to be a really good offense,'' Carroll said. ``There have been some issues. It might not be stylish like we'd all like to see, but it's still coming and it's still very new. A lot of young guys are getting a feel for how to play this game when we need them to.''
USC's defense has been outstanding for the most part, ranking third in the nation in total defense (253.3-yard average) and seventh in scoring defense (15.9-point average).
The Trojans had only 20 sacks in their first eight games, but got nine against Oregon State. The Bears have allowed quarterbacks Nate Longshore and Kevin Riley to be sacked a conference-low eight times.
``It's a key to keep our quarterback standing,'' Cal coach Jeff Tedford said on a conference call. ``There is no question that is one of the parts of the game that if we have a chance of being successful, we are going to have to make sure that we protect him.''
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