If the Pac-10 were a political party, it would probably hand Southern California its nomination without so much as a roll call vote.
Alas, they're going to require the Trojans to earn their seventh straight title on the field. Given the shabby state of the conference, that might not be much of a challenge for a powerhouse that whipped Virginia and Ohio State by a combined 85-10.
But consider that six of USC's last seven losses have come against Pac-10 rivals. Pete Carroll's Trojans excel in the big games. It's the small ones that give them trouble, and there will be plenty of those in the next two months.
Still, Carroll doesn't buy the notion that Trojans will cruise through the conference.
``We have a ridiculously difficult schedule going through the conference, and we don't address where they're ranked or anything,'' Carroll said.
That's wise, because at the moment the Trojans don't have another Top 25 opponent on their schedule.
eturn. Of course, they've only had to return three kicks so far.
Already there are questions about whether the Pac-10 is so feeble that it will drag down the Trojans in the BCS standings. To forestall such talk, Pac-10 coaches stress that it's too early to make snap judgments, perhaps hoping critics eventually forget ugly losses to UNLV, New Mexico and Maryland.
``I wouldn't say that we are down,'' Arizona State coach Dennis Erickson said this week. ``Maybe some of the other conferences are up.''
Maybe. Either way, the Pac-10 season shifts into high gear this week - and from Seattle to Tucson that's a good-news, bad-news proposition. A team-by-team outlook based on overall records:
1. USC (2-0)
Good news: Only an epic disaster will stop the Trojans from earning a berth in the Bowl Championship Series title game.
Bad news: In an epic disaster, USC lost to Stanford at home last year and missed out on the BCS title game. Keep an eye on the Oct. 25 visit to Arizona, which has ambushed a Top-10 team in Tucson each of the last three seasons.
2. Oregon (3-1, 1-0)
Good news: No more Western Athletic Conference teams on the schedule.
Bad news: Trips to USC, Arizona State and Cal in a five-week span that begins Oct. 4. It's a tough road for a banged-up bunch that has used four quarterbacks - two sophomores and two freshmen.
3. Arizona (3-1, 1-0)
and Washington up next, the Wildcats have a chance to be 3-0 in the Pac-10 for the first time since 2000.
Bad news: In 2000, Arizona lost its last five games and fired coach Dick Tomey. Be careful what you wish for, Mike Stoops.
4. California (2-1, 1-0)
Good news: The Golden Bears stunk it up at Maryland, but the farthest east they'll have to travel the rest of the season is Tucson.
Bad news: Once a team renowned for big plays, the Bears rank 101st in the nation in punt returns. Where have you gone, DeSean Jackson?
5. Arizona State (2-2, 1-0)
Good news: Gridiron collapse of the Sun Devils, ranked 15th in preseason, should not damage recruiting by the school's NCAA champion softball team.
Bad news: At Cal Oct. 4. At USC Oct. 11. At home in December?
6. Stanford (2-2, 1-1)
Good news: Players receive a Stanford degree when they graduate.
Bad news: Cardinal ranks 109th in passing offense and has thrown only one touchdown pass against five interceptions. You'd expect more from a team coached by a former quarterback, Jim Harbaugh, although he did play for run-loving Bo Schembechler at Michigan.
7. Oregon State (1-2, 0-1)
Good news: The Beavers are 1-0 at home.
Bad news: Next home game is against USC on Thursday night.
8. UCLA (1-2, 0-1).
ime the football team will have only three losses remaining.
Bad news: The Bruins' best quarterback may be coach Rick Neuheisel, who led the Bruins to victory in the 1984 Rose Bowl. UCLA has four touchdowns this season - one was scored by a linebacker and another by a defensive lineman.
9. Washington State (1-3, 0-1)
Good news: Even if they don't win another game all season, the Cougars are guaranteed a trip to Hawaii, where they'll end the regular season on Nov. 29.
Bad news: The Cougars are giving up an incredible 39.75 points per game, 114th in the nation, and they've allowed 20 touchdowns. Memo to opposing kickoff teams: get plenty of rest before visiting Pullman.
10. Washington (0-3, 0-1)
Good news: Only a silly rule - and a blocked extra point - prevented the Huskies from forcing overtime against Brigham Young in a 28-27 loss on Sept. 6.
Bad news: The Huskies lost their other two games by a combined score of 99-24.

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