LOS ANGELES (AP) -One lousy half of football might be enough to eliminate Southern California from the national championship race.
So it's back to the Rose Bowl, assuming the fifth-ranked Trojans beat crosstown rival UCLA next Saturday.
``Our only concern is going up to Pasadena next week and taking care of the Pac-10,'' USC linebacker Brian Cushing said after the Trojans crushed intersectional rival Notre Dame 38-3 on Saturday night.
Barring big upsets, the Trojans (10-1, 7-1 Pac-10) will face No. 6 Penn State (11-1) on New Year's Day in Pasadena for the second time. USC won a 14-3 decision in the 1923 Rose Bowl in the first of eight games between the schools. Each has won four, with the Nittany Lions prevailing 22-15 in the most recent matchup at Giants Stadium in the 2000 Kickoff Classic.
has won eight straight since then, outscoring the opposition 314-49. But the weakness of the Pac-10 and strength of the Southeastern and Big 12 Conferences have almost surely made that one loss one too many.
In all likelihood, those conferences will produce the opponents in the BCS championship game Jan. 8.
USC coach Pete Carroll has always said the goal at USC is to win the conference championship, something the Trojans can do for an unprecedented seven consective year by beating UCLA. Oregon State's 65-38 loss to in-state rival Oregon on Saturday gave USC control of the Rose Bowl race for the first time since the loss at Oregon State.
``We're not done yet,'' Carroll said. ``We get one more chance to go across town. We just keep playing. We're going to the Rose Bowl, one way or another.''
USC needed a victory over UCLA two years ago in Pasadena to advance to the BCS title game, but the Bruins upset the Trojans 13-9. So USC shouldn't enter the game overconfident, although the Bruins (4-7, 3-5) don't appear to have the talent required to spring that kind of an upset again. The Trojans have won eight of the last nine games between the teams.
ge football's storied programs. They've won those seven games by an average of 27 points.
Mark Sanchez passed for 267 yards and two touchdowns, but the story for USC, as it's been all season, was the defense. The Fighting Irish didn't get a first down until the final play of the third quarter and finished with only four first downs and 91 yards of total offense.
``They're nasty, they fight hard, they don't want to give up an inch,'' Sanchez said of the USC defense.
``Is this the best group we have had? Well, it's the best we've ever played on defense,'' said Carroll, whose team has allowed just 10 touchdowns in 11 games and an NCAA low 7.8 points per game. ``We just didn't give up many yards tonight. We continually controlled the line of scrimmage.
``Notre Dame is a very good passing team and it just seemed like series after series, it just wasn't happening for them. We played a very well-rounded game.''
USC has an 86-15 record since Carroll became coach in 2001, and the Trojans have won 44 of their last 45 at the Los Angeles Coliseum.

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