USC Left No Doubt This Year: Unbeaten Trojans Will Play For Title

Dec. 6, 2004

AP Sports Writer

LOS ANGELES-- This time the players' chow hall at USC was loud and lively even before the BCS pairings were announced. A year earlier, the mood was relatively dour.

Left out of the last national championship game, the top-ranked Trojans left no doubt they belonged in the title showdown this year.

Gathered on campus, the Trojan players cheered and clapped Sunday when their matchup against No. 2 Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl was formally announced.

'It's a lot better feeling this year,' defensive lineman Shaun Cody said. 'Last year we had such a tough thing to deal with. When we came in here last year, we didn't know what was going on, didn't have a clue where we were going to go.

'I do think we did it the right way and were excited for the Rose Bowl, but it was definitely a tough thing to swallow. Knowing where you're going is a better feeling, especially when it's the best bowl you can go to.'

Although USC finished No. 1 in the both the writers' and coaches' final regular-season polls last year, the Trojans were third behind LSU and Oklahoma in the BCS rankings so were the odd team out of the championship game.

USC instead played in the Rose Bowl and beat Michigan 28-14. The Trojans then were voted national champion in The Associated Press poll, but the winner of the BCS title game - LSU by a 21-14 over Oklahoma - automatically was the coaches' national champion.

Unlike last year, when a loss to California wound up costing them a spot in the BCS title game, the Trojans were able to keep their No. 1 preseason ranking throughout the season with a 12-0 record.

'I can't tell you what a great feeling this is,' USC coach Pete Carroll said. 'To go wire-to-wire and get it done.'

Unbeaten Oklahoma also remained No. 2 for the entire regular season.

'It's a fantastic matchup,' Carroll said. 'It's awesome that we get to settle it.'

Cornerback Eric Wright likes the matchup, too.

'They (the Sooners) are a lot like us. It's a couple of high-powered teams, with some great players,' Wright said. 'It should be a great game for football fans all over the country.'

Said Cody, 'They've got some really good people on offense who are going to challenge our defense.'

He likes the challenge for the Trojans.

'We didn't come all this way just to get to a bowl. We want to win the bowl, that's obviously the ultimate goal,' Cody said.

Oklahoma will be making its third appearance in the BCS title game, USC its first.

'Their players have been around for a long time doing this, so they might be more acclimated to it,' Carroll said. 'We have a lot of young kids on this team, freshmen and sophomores who'll be playing in the game and it's a new experience for them. I don't really know if there's an advantage there.

'This is going to be really fun, we can't wait to get ready to start on the preparations. By no means do we think this season is over.'

The USC coach can sympathize with unbeaten Auburn, this year's odd team out of the BCS title showdown. The No. 3 Tigers will face Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl.

'It's obviously a very difficult situation, but you can't really say anything about the system this time,' Carroll said. 'It's just three teams that are undefeated and all deserving. It's unfortunate for somebody to be left out of this ball game.'

Unlike the Trojans a year ago, however, the Tigers were never ranked No. 1 this season.