UCLA and quarterback Cade McNown will open the football season under the rather bearable burden of expectations after being picked to win the Pacific 10 Conference title in a preseason poll, but USC, picked fourth, will have to try to fend off Purdue on Aug. 30 without receiver R. Jay Soward.
New USC Coach Paul Hackett decided that despite Soward's performance in summer school and off-season workouts, he won't back off his earlier decision to hold Soward out of the Pigskin Classic game at the Coliseum.
Hackett said Soward "responded tremendously" to a situation that left his academic eligibility in question, but will not rescind last spring's decision to suspend Soward and defensive back Darnell Lacy for one game.
"I am not going to change what I say because it would undo what I've done," Hackett said, calling Soward "an absolutely phenomenal talent" and saying he spent a long time mulling the decision.
UCLA, which won its final 10 games last season to go 10-2, edged Arizona State in the closest Pac-10 preseason media poll in 20 years, finishing with 284 points, three more than the Sun Devils.
Washington was third with 217 points and USC had 197, followed by Arizona, Oregon, Washington State, Stanford, California and Oregon State.
Hackett said that USC freshman running back Sultan McCullough will report to camp late because he is completing a summer-school course required for NCAA eligibility, but added there is "not a question" he will be eligible.
There has been no decision on junior college transfer Windrell Hayes, a USC receiver facing felony charges in Northern California for his alleged involvement in a bad-check scam. Hayes faces a Nov. 16 trial but was seeking to plead to a lesser charge.
"I'm not overly encouraged," said Hackett, who hopes for word by the end of the week.