Trojans Go For Three In A Row One Step At A Time

Aug. 25, 2005

LOS ANGELES (AP) - Three-peat isn't an expression you'll hear from Southern California coach Pete Carroll or his players.

The top-ranked Trojans try not to talk about making history. That wouldn't be living in the moment, and that's what the two-time national champions do best.

Carroll wouldn't have it any other way.

'The national championships aren't in our control. What we can control, we work toward,' he said.

Right now, that's the season-opener in Hawaii on Sept. 3 - and no more.

'We have to win one before we can win two,' Carroll said.

His approach appears to be working. 'We're thinking of Hawaii. You just can't look ahead,' wide receiver Steve Smith said.

Well, it's mostly working.

'It's in the back of our minds to be that historical team that everyone's going to talk about forever,' he said. 'There's so much opportunity there.'

No team in the modern era of college football has won three straight major national championships. The Trojans have that opportunity, having split the national title with LSU two years ago before having it all to themselves last year by dominating Oklahoma 55-19 in the Orange Bowl to cap a 13-0 season.

'It's a great thought to win three championships, but all there is right now is right now,' running back LenDale White said.

If USC accomplishes the feat, it would cap maybe the greatest run in college football history. Eleven teams in NCAA history have won at least 30 straight games, but only one, Miami, has done so in the last 30 years.

The Trojans are 36-3 under Carroll the past three years and have won 22 straight games. They figure to be solid favorites in every game because they're so well-coached and loaded with talent.

The schedule provides some challenges with three tricky Pac-10 road games, starting Sept. 24 at Oregon. USC travels to No. 20 Arizona State the next week, and plays at No. 19 California on Nov 12.

The Golden Bears were the last team to beat the Trojans and nearly knocked them off last year in the Coliseum.

Offensively, USC has no apparent weakness.

Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Matt Leinart, who surprisingly passed up a chance to be the first pick in the NFL to return for his senior season, is 25-1 as a starter.

Joining him in the backfield are Heisman finalist Reggie Bush and White - both juniors. Bush, an excellent receiver and dangerous kick returner, provides big plays in a variety of ways while White is a powerful workhorse.

Just about everyone else who contributed to an offense that averaged 38.2 points per game last year also returns.

'We could be pretty scary,' Leinart said. 'We could score a ton of points, probably average more than any SC team in the history of the school.'

There are questions on defense because star linemen Mike Patterson and Shaun Cody and standout linebackers Matt Grootegoed and Lofa Tatupu must be replaced.

But Dallas Sartz, a returning starter at linebacker, said he's not concerned.

'It's tough losing guys like that, four All-Americans, but the guys filling in for them are doing great,' Sartz said, referring to defensive linemen Sedrick Ellis and LaJuan Ramsey and linebackers Keith Rivers and Oscar Lua. 'It always helps having a good defensive coach and his staff. It's a group effort.'

While Carroll is back to run the defense, it's a different story on offense. Play-caller Norm Chow left to become offensive coordinator for the NFL's Tennessee Titans.

That leaves 31-year-old Steve Sarkisian and 30-year-old Lane Kiffin to handle those duties.

'I don't think age matters. I've had four years here with coach Carroll,' said Kiffin, whose father, Monte, is the defensive coordinator for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. 'I've been next to Norm in the press box for the past four years. I've prepared myself. I'm not nervous, I feel extremely ready for it.'

Sarkisian was a USC offensive assistant from 2001-03 before spending last year with the Oakland Raiders. He returned to the Trojans after Chow left.

Three other assistants - quarterbacks coach Carl Smith, offensive line coach Tim Davis and defensive line coach Ed Orgeron - also left for other jobs.

'The guys who came into this staff know they have a lot to live up to,' Carroll said.

All that talent and experience on offense should make that transition smooth.

'We've installed more than we ever have,' Kiffin said.

The Trojans have grown accustomed to being the team to beat. They've been No. 1 in the AP Top 25 for 19 straight polls, dating back to 2003.

'Everybody's going to be gunning for us,' White said. 'There's going to be an even bigger X, not just on our back but on our whole body.'

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