Close to home, USC goes for third straight national championship

Dec. 29, 2005

Disneyland Photo Gallery

LOS ANGELES (AP) - Southern California traveled nearly 3,000 miles to win the national championship last season. Now, the top-ranked Trojans are just a short bus ride away.

They're working out on their normal practice field. They can order their regular room service meal. And then they'll follow a familiar freeway 15 miles to Pasadena for the big game.

At this rate, perhaps they should play the Rose Bowl right inside the Coliseum, too.

'It's an advantage for us. It's like a home game for us,' Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush said. 'We don't have to travel, we don't have to do any of that stuff, we don't have to worry about distractions.'

The Trojans are also secure in knowing that coach Pete Carroll and USC agreed to terms of a contract extension announced Wednesday, although no details were released.

The second-ranked Texas Longhorns can see - and hear - what they're up against.

During a photo op at Disneyland on Thursday, a young girl shouted 'I love you, Reggie!' and several more squealed for Matt Leinart, the Trojans' other Heisman winner.

When quarterback Vince Young and his Texas teammates showed up, a few boos broke out.

'We're in their city. It's supposed to happen like that,' Young said.

Added star defensive tackle Rod Wright: 'We hear the Reggie chants and all that. It makes us laugh a little bit. It's kind of like an away game, but we play great on the road.'

Over the years, playing close to home has helped bowl teams. Miami often excelled at the Orange Bowl and LSU won its share of a national title at the Superdome.

The Rose has always been the objective for USC, trying for its third straight national title.

'It's always fun to go places and experience new things, but the Rose Bowl is the best game,' Leinart said. 'This year, it works out great. It's so sweet - the Rose bowl, the national championship game.'

And in some ways, the Trojans are preparing for Wednesday night's game the same way they would for a regular-season matchup against Stanford or Washington State.

USC was scheduled to move into a hotel Thursday night in nearby Century City until next Tuesday, when they'll move again, to the same Los Angeles hotel where they spend the night before every home game.

If USC plays the way it did in last year's championship game, the location won't matter much. The Trojans and Oklahoma were supposed to be evenly matched in the Orange Bowl, then USC won 55-19 despite spotting the Sooners an early touchdown.

That game was decided by halftime.

Carroll said the pregame buzz seems different this year.

'I know the kids can sense it,' he said. 'It just feels a step, a notch, bigger to us all. We're just lucky that we're here and humbled by it.'

While fun is part of Carroll's plan, so is preparation and discipline.

The coach is satisfied in those areas.

'This is the hardest-working football team you're going to find,' he said.

And one of the most successful ever, having won 34 straight games and going 48-3 since the start of the 2002 season.

While Texas goes through almost completely closed practices at the Home Depot Center in nearby Carson, USC's practices are attended by dozens of people not directly involved with the Trojans. Most aren't reporters, either.

'Family is family,' Carroll said. 'That means we open the doors to them. I think our players are comfortable with people at practice. We try to do a real nice job of screening. I'm not paranoid about it. However, we're going to do everything we can to try and not let the wrong people watch.'

Texas beat reporters, including TV and photographers, are only allowed to attend the first 20 minutes of practice, then can return at the finish to interview players and coaches.

Texas practices are open to video and still photographers for the first 15 minutes, and that's it.

The Longhorns bring a 19-game winning streak into their second straight Rose Bowl. Young made quite a name for himself a year ago, starring in a wild 38-37 victory over Michigan.

Texas players believe that experience will be of help against USC, since they're familiar with the hotel, practice facilities, pregame ceremonies and the stadium.

'I'm a city guy,' said offensive tackle Justin Blalock, who is from the Dallas area. 'I really like the fast-pace life, and there is no better place for that than L.A., unless they start having bowl games in New York.'

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AP Sports Writer Jim Vertuno contributed to this report.

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