LOS ANGELES (AP) -Move over, New Orleans. In the eyes of Louisiana State coach Les Miles, the Pac-10 is the real Big Easy.
Miles recently told a gathering of LSU fans that Southern California has a ``must easier road to travel'' than LSU to the BCS title game in the Superdome next January.
When Pac-10 coaches, players and officials gathered for the conference's annual pep rally - otherwise known as football media day - the reaction was a mix of disbelief and dismay.
``I believe you should be very, very careful about talking about other people in everything you do, and particularly comparing teams,'' commissioner Tom Hansen said.
The episode underscored a reality of life in the Pac-10. No matter how much the conference achieves on the field, it still battles for national recognition, especially in places where root-hog-or-die football is a way of life.
``If anything, it just draws attention to the fact that this conference needs to continue to keep a mind-set of improving our reputation,'' UCLA coach Karl Dorrell said.
Hansen said he would like to see a Southeastern Conference team visit Pullman, Wash., in late November. That's unlikely. But many in the Pac-10 would be happy to see USC play LSU for the national title in New Orleans in January.
Miles seemed to project that matchup in his remarks to LSU fans.
``They're going to play real knockdown, drag-outs with UCLA and Washington, Cal-Berkeley, Stanford - some real juggernauts,'' Miles said of the Trojans. ``And they're going to end up, it would be my guess, in some position so if they win a game or two, that they'll end up in the title (game). I would like that path for us.''
It's fair to wonder if the Trojans' road would be much tougher if they played in, say, the SEC West, home to Miles' Tigers.
Last September, the Trojans blitzed SEC West champion Arkansas 50-14.
A year earlier, it was USC 70, Hogs 17.
And in 2003, the Trojans went into Auburn and crushed the Tigers 23-0 in quarterback Matt Leinart's first college start.
But to some critics - including Miles, perhaps - those results only support the perception that the Pac-10 has become USC and the Little Nine. The Trojans have won or shared four straight conference titles.
The perception is, so to speak, miles away from reality. Most of USC's recent trouble has come in its own backyard.
Four of USC's last five losses, dating to October 2002, have come against Pac-10 rivals.
``If you look at our score spreads, in-conference versus out-of-conference, it's obvious that our toughest games are in the conference,'' Trojans coach Pete Carroll said.
The rest of the Pac-10 has fared well at the game's elite level. The Pac-10's .636 winning percentage (7-4) in BCS games is second only to the .692 winning percentage (9-4) posted by the SEC among conferences with more than one appearance. And the Trojans aren't the only ones doing the damage; Oregon, Oregon State and Washington also have BCS victories.
``We certainly don't have to apologize for the teams we've put in the BCS, and I think we probably should have had a couple more,'' Hansen said.
It takes talent to win BCS games, and the Pac-10 is usually loaded at the offensive skill positions. This season, eight of the top nine passers from a year ago are back.
After Sam Keller lost the starting job at Pac-10 also-ran Arizona State a year ago, he transferred to Nebraska and was immediately named the starter for the defending Big 12 North champions.
The Pac-10 will have plenty of chances to improve on its reputation this season, beginning on Sept. 1, when California plays host to Tennessee in a game that has suddenly become very important in West Coast football circles.
Tennessee, of course, plays in the SEC along with LSU. And the Volunteers smoked Cal 35-18 in Knoxville last year.
``You can't control what other people say,'' California coach Jeff Tedford said. ``We're not going to be motivated by something coach Miles said. He has an opinion, and he's entitled to that opinion.''
Pac-10 schools will play a number of other critical intersectional matchups, including Washington State at Wisconsin, Oregon at Michigan, Notre Dame at UCLA and Ohio State at Washington. USC visits both Nebraska and Notre Dame.
``It's very, very important that we win games like that all up and down the conference,'' Hansen said. ``Every time you play, you're gauged.''
Pac-10 coaches are confident the conference will hold its own.
``I'd take the Pac-10 on a one-game basis against any team from any conference,'' Oregon coach Mike Bellotti said.
It's not unusual for Pac-10 teams to challenge tough opponents. A year ago, nine of the nation's toughest 11 schedules belonged to Pac-10 schools, according to Jeff Sagarin's final 2006 college football ratings. For the record, LSU's schedule ranked 20th.

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