USC would play Ohio State if the Bowl Championship Series title game were played today.
But the first BCS standings that were released Sunday reflect only the first half of the season. So Coach Pete Carroll, as per his custom, would not put much stock in the fact that the Trojans were No. 2 behind the Buckeyes and ahead of No. 3 Michigan.
"It does position us in a place where if you hold on you have a big opportunity at the end of the year," he said. "But it's a long haul, and we're just at the halfway point now."
USC remained unbeaten with a 28-21 victory Saturday over Arizona State. For the second week in a row, however, another team jumped the Trojans to the No. 2 spot in the Associated Press media poll. Last week it was Florida, this week Michigan.
The AP poll is not part of the BCS formula, though.
USC remained second in the coaches' poll but dropped from second to third in the Harris poll behind Ohio State and Michigan.
To complete the journey to its third consecutive BCS title game appearance, USC might have to go unbeaten in remaining games against Oregon State, Stanford, California, Oregon, Notre Dame and UCLA.
"We've played a difficult schedule with a young team and we're pleased to be where we are, knowing that as you march your way through the schedule the games get more difficult and the teams get better and you have to improve as well," Carroll said.
After watching a replay of Saturday's game, Carroll praised the defense and running back Chauncey Washington, who rushed for 64 yards and a touchdown in 10 carries during the game-winning drive.
Carroll said quarterback John David Booty's performance has suffered of late because three of the Trojans' top four receivers -- Dwayne Jarrett, Steve Smith and Chris McFoy -- have been sidelined or slowed by injuries.
Booty struggled for the second game in a row. He fumbled, setting up an Arizona State touchdown, and had a pass intercepted and returned for a touchdown in the third quarter, allowing the Sun Devils to rally from a 21-0 deficit.
"Look at games when Matt Leinart played without those guys, without starters; that didn't happen very often if at all," Carroll said. "So I think that's an obvious difference, and we have to help [Booty] more in those games when he doesn't have his big guns and take the onus off of the quarterback position."
With an open date this week, freshman receivers Vidal Hazelton and Travon Patterson, running back Allen Bradford and tight end Anthony McCoy will be pushed to develop, Carroll said.
Cornerback Kevin Thomas is scheduled to have foot surgery this week, possibly ending his season, so junior Mozique McCurtis will play in nickel situations and freshmen Shareece Wright and Vincent Joseph also must develop.
After a two-game drought, USC had two sacks Saturday. Safety Kevin Ellison got one and shared credit with nose tackle Sedrick Ellis on the other.
Carroll said the Trojans blitzed more than they had in previous games. They also used a reconfigured defensive line at times during the fourth quarter, utilizing Kyle Moore and Alex Morrow at end and shifting end Lawrence Jackson to tackle, next to Ellis.