TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) - Southern California is finally playing like the preseason No. 1 team.
Overcoming a series of injuries, an upset loss to Stanford and a bitter defeat at Oregon, the 11th-ranked Trojans have the Pac-10 title and a Rose Bowl bid in their sights after crushing No. 7 Arizona State 44-24 on Thursday night.
But for the loss to the Cardinal, a 41-point underdog, USC might be in the mix for the Bowl Championship Series title game.
``I would love to see us finish up this season and make people wonder who's the best team in the country,'' Carroll said. ``I'd like to see what happens. We have a chance in the next couple weeks, the next couple games, you can see who we are now.''
Arizona State coach Dennis Erickson wouldn't argue after the Trojans flayed his Sun Devils. ``In my opinion, watching them play live, they're probably one of the best teams in the country,'' Erickson said.
Back in the summer, LSU coach Les Miles said the Trojans had an easy road to New Orleans, site of the BCS title game. But two Pac-10 losses left the Trojans pondering other holiday destinations.
San Diego was one possibility. El Paso - perish the thought - was another.
After routing the Sun Devils, the Trojans may be headed for a more familiar spot - Pasadena. Southern California (9-2, 6-2 Pac-10) will win the Pac-10 if it beats UCLA on Dec. 1 and Oregon loses at UCLA on Saturday or Oregon State on Dec. 1 in Eugene.
The Ducks (8-2, 5-2) have lost quarterback Dennis Dixon, a Heisman Trophy candidate, to a season-ending knee injury. Back-up Brady Leaf played ineffectively in a 34-24 loss at Arizona on Nov. 15.
If USC and Oregon win out, the Trojans may draw a Fiesta Bowl invitation.
``It definitely puts us back in the race,'' said tight end Fred Davis, who caught a 34-yard touchdown pass against ASU. ``We always knew we that we're capable of being one of the top teams. We definitely have the talent. We definitely have the good coaching. It's football, and things happen. You see us now, and we're back in it. It's crazy how it works.''
It's no surprise that USC is saving its best for last. The Trojans are 23-0 in November under Carroll.
``It ain't over yet,'' Carroll said. ``We just need to keep playing. We're in a a playoff run. You've got to keep winning. You keep winning and good things will happen.
``This is what we shoot for is to get to that Rose Bowl,'' Carroll said. ``We have a shot to do that, and we have a shot to be a champion again. We're going to be very, very proud if that's what we can get accomplished by winning next week.''
In front of a national television audience and a howling crowd of 71,706 in Sun Devil Stadium, the Trojans unleashed a devastating combination of speed and power.
John David Booty, who missed three games with a broken finger on his throwing hand, passed for 375 yards and four touchdowns, matching a career high. He also scored on a 1-yard sneak.
USC sacked Sun Devils quarterback Rudy Carpenter six times - four by defensive end Lawrence Jackson - and limited ASU to 16 rushing yards, 148 below its average.
One of ASU's touchdowns came on a 98-yard kickoff return by Rudy Burgess, and another came on a 20-yard drive that began after the Sun Devils blocked a punt during garbage time.
The rest of the game, the Trojans defense conceded 10 points to an offense that had averaged 34.2 points per game, second in the Pac-10.
``We've been looking forward to the time when we really felt that we were all together and had everything going in the right direction, and these last couple weeks we had a sense that it was going to happen,'' Carroll said.
The Sun Devils happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. They had used a soft schedule to climb into the Top 10 but lost to Oregon and USC by a combined 32 points.
The Sun Devils (9-2, 6-2) are technically alive in the Rose Bowl race, but they need USC and Oregon to lose, and they must defeat streaking Arizona on Dec. 1 in the annual Territorial Cup game. At 10-2, Arizona State could be in the mix for a trip to the Fiesta Bowl in nearby Glendale.
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