LOS ANGELES (AP) -Southern California is just where it expected to be at this time of year - looking to beat crosstown rival UCLA and clinch a Rose Bowl berth.
What the eighth-ranked Trojans didn't foresee was how they'd get to this point.
``We feel very fortunate to be in the situation that we're in with as much riding on the final game of the year,'' USC coach Pete Carroll said Tuesday. ``This is a chance for us to really be at our best.
``We're the healthiest we've been. We do have an opportunity to be at our best. We played a terrific football game last week (a 44-24 victory over Arizona State). But that was last week. We have a chance to finish on a really good note. I'm excited about that.''
USC (9-2, 6-2 Pac-10) entered the season having won or shared the Pac-10 championship a record five straight times, and was a near-unanimous pick as the No. 1 team in the country.
But a shocking 24-23 loss to lowly Stanford on Oct. 6 and a 24-17 setback at Oregon three weeks later appeared to knock the Trojans out of contention for the conference title and Rose Bowl berth that goes with it, not to mention the national championship picture.
Now, thanks to their usual November success and two Oregon losses, all the Trojans need is a victory over UCLA on Saturday at the Los Angeles Coliseum to guarantee an appearance in Pasadena on New Year's Day.
``After the Oregon game, it was completely out of our hands,'' offensive lineman Jeff Byers said. ``It's kind of like, `Who would have thought after the Oregon game we'd be in this position?' Things went our way, as we all know. Things turn fast in college football.''
That's been the case throughout the season, with three No. 1 teams and six No. 2 teams, including USC, Oregon and California of the Pac-10, being knocked off.
Carroll said it never occurred to him the Trojans were out of the conference race - even after the loss at Oregon.
``I know our players might have doubted it,'' Carroll said. ``I don't know how to think any other way. We weren't done. It ain't over yet, you know? It wasn't then, it's not now.''
Oregon's most recent loss, a 16-0 setback at UCLA last weekend, moved USC into the driver's seat in the Pac-10 and gave the Bruins (6-5, 5-3) a shot at the Rose Bowl as well. That will happen if UCLA beats USC and Arizona upsets No. 13 Arizona State.
Carroll acknowledged it wasn't easy to pull for UCLA to beat Oregon even if it was the best thing for the Trojans.
``I'm not that fond of the Bruins winning,'' he said.
The Trojans were listed Tuesday as 20-point favorites. USC has won 37 of its last 38 games at home.
Two years ago, UCLA brought a 10-1 record into the Coliseum, and the Trojans won 66-19 to clinch a berth in the national championship game, which happened to be the Rose Bowl.
USC was heavily favored over UCLA last year, but the Bruins won a 13-9 decision at home to snap a seven-game losing streak to their biggest rivals and bounce the Trojans out of the national championship game - and into the Rose Bowl.
``They played a great football game against us, and we didn't,'' Carroll said. ``We played pretty good defense, it wasn't enough. Hats off to them.''
Carroll scoffed at the notion revenge would be a factor this weekend, shaking his head at the thought his team would need any extra motivation.
``99.9 percent of the time, we don't even talk about the past,'' he said. ``We will not talk about last year's game in preparation for this one.''
While Carroll made it clear the conference championship was always the goal at USC, he made clear his feelings when asked about the big picture in college football - he'd love to be involved in a playoff.
``I would like to see if we would be the last one standing,' he said. ``I don't know if there is any other coach in the country who feels different.''
As Carroll put it, the system in place designates who has had the most attractive seasons, not necessarily the best teams. This year, No. 1 Missouri and No. 2 West Virginia, each with one loss, can clinch berths in the BCS national championship game by winning this weekend.
``There are teams out there, and we are one of them, that could arguably beat any team in America,'' Carroll said. ``The BCS thing has not ever mattered to me. We don't live for that around here. We live for being a champion.''
Regarding the BCS system, Carroll said: ``It continues to have issues every year because it's not perfect. The only perfect way is to play it off.''
Even then, he acknowledged, somebody would probably be upset, like the No. 9 team if there was an eight-team playoff.
USC was a consensus No. 1 following the 2003 regular season, but was bypassed in favor of LSU and Oklahoma for the national championship game. If nothing else, that proved the system wasn't perfect.
The Trojans went on to beat Michigan in the Rose Bowl and split the national championship with LSU.

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