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NO. 3 USC AT CALIFORNIA Today at Memorial Stadium 3:30
p.m., Fox Sports Net

Trojans Have Developed New Sense of Entitlement

Conference opener marks the beginning of a difficult road stretch, but USC sees it as the start of something big.

September 27, 2003|Gary Klein | Times Staff Writer

BERKELEY — USC players are becoming extremely possessive.

After sharing the Pacific 10 Conference championship last season, the Trojans want to go solo.

"We want that title for ourselves," sophomore tailback Hershel Dennis said. "We want to be alone at the top every year."

The third-ranked Trojans (3-0) can take the first step toward achieving that feat when they play California (2-3) in their Pac-10 opener today at Memorial Stadium.

Last year, USC finished 7-1 in conference play, shared the title with Washington State, earned its first bowl championship series game appearance and routed Iowa in the Orange Bowl.

This season, the Trojans are eyeing a potential run to the national championship game in the Sugar Bowl.

The Trojans' road to New Orleans, however, would include four difficult detours in the next five weeks.

"We'll have to be road warriors for a while," said USC Coach Pete Carroll, whose team plays at Arizona State next week, at Notre Dame on Oct. 18 and at Washington on Oct. 25. "I think we're ready for the challenge."

USC players are eager to play in any location after a bye last week. Today's game is the Trojans' first since Sept. 13, when they defeated Hawaii, 61-32, at the Coliseum.

Sophomore quarterback Matt Leinart said the Trojans have not lost the edge that helped them shut out Auburn and defeat Brigham Young and Hawaii.

"As far as intensity, I think we've picked it up a little bit knowing it's Pac-10 and knowing that we have to start things going," said Leinart, who has passed for 647 yards and six touchdowns with three interceptions. "We want to set a tone early in this conference."

Cal Coach Jeff Tedford said USC "stands alone in the conference as far as being a powerhouse. Ever since midseason last year, they've caught fire."

Tedford would know.

USC overcame a 21-3 deficit against Cal last season and defeated the Golden Bears, 30-28, to start what has grown into an 11-game winning streak.

The Trojans hope to avoid the need for a similar comeback against a Cal team that has already played five games.

"They've got to be feeling pretty sure of themselves -- who they've got and what they're doing," Carroll said. "We're still figuring some stuff out with young running backs and stuff like that."

Sultan McCullough rushed for 176 yards in 39 carries against Cal last season, but none of the Trojans' young tailbacks expect a similar workload today.

Freshman Reggie Bush said he anticipated a rotation similar to the one employed against Hawaii, when Bush, freshman LenDale White and Dennis averaged more than five yards a carry.

"We have too much talent for one running back to have 39 carries," Bush said. "I think that's what makes us so good. We have different styles for different situations."

Cal is coming off a 31-24 victory at Illinois after blowing fourth-quarter leads in losses against Colorado State and Utah.

The Golden Bears began the season with nine new starters on defense. They are surrendering 418.4 yards a game, which ranks ninth in the Pac-10.

"They're playing hard, but it's a situation where they've battled and battled and we've given up some plays," Tedford said.

Cal's offense got a spark last week when Tedford had sophomore Aaron Rodgers replace Reggie Robertson as the starting quarterback.

Rodgers, a transfer from Butte College, completed 20 of 37 passes for 263 yards and a touchdown against Illinois. He has completed 46 of 79 attempts without an interception.

Rodgers' favorite target is junior receiver Geoff McArthur, a former standout at Palisades High who is averaging seven receptions a game and 17.9 yards a catch. McArthur caught 10 passes for 155 yards and a touchdown against Illinois.

Adimchinobe Echemandu and junior college transfer J.J. Arrington lead Cal's rushing attack. Echemandu is averaging 69 yards a game and 5.2 yards a carry. Arrington averages 4.5 yards a carry.

Carroll said he is looking forward to the challenge of matching up against Tedford, who is regarded as one of the conference's most innovative offensive coaches.

"He creates challenges for us on defense," Carroll said. "It's a very wide-open style. They do a lot of things that make it very difficult for us."

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