USC, which has won or shared the last six Pacific 10 Conference football titles, was a near-unanimous choice to repeat as champion in a vote by West Coast media members released Thursday.
USC received 38 of 39 first-place votes. California got one first-place vote and finished fourth in the poll.
Times writers do not participate in polls.
"SC has the best talent coming back," Oregon Coach Mike Bellotti said during the Pac-10's football media day at the Hilton Los Angeles Airport Hotel.
Arizona State was picked to finish second, followed by Oregon, Cal, UCLA, Oregon State, Arizona, Washington, Stanford and Washington State.
USC Coach Pete Carroll was unmoved by the Trojans' position atop the conference poll.
"The truth is how you play," he said.
USC opens the season Aug. 30 at Virginia.
Dave Cutaia, the Pac-10's coordinator of officials, covered several topics during his session with head coaches, including chop blocks, clock changes, horse-collar tackles, face-mask violations, targeting an opponent with the crown of the helmet and reviewable plays.
Carroll got rolling after Cutaia showed a video clip of a helmet-to-helmet hit on a punt return and said the tackler would be ejected.
"This stuff just happens and it has nothing to do with the guy's intent," Carroll said of the example in the clip.
The subdued meeting then turned into a lively series of exchanges, with nearly every coach weighing in on the topic.
UCLA Coach Rick Neuheisel agreed with Carroll. Washington's Tyrone Willingham cautioned that the intent of the rule was to address one of the most unprotected situations in football.
Cutaia said he appreciated the feedback and would take the comments into consideration. Later in the meeting, Cutaia said egregious errors such as an incorrect good or no-good call on a field goal could now be reviewed.
"We don't want to get caught in procedure," he said. "We want to get the darn play right."
Washington quarterback Jake Locker faced USC and Ohio State as a freshman last season, so he has an idea what to expect when those teams meet Sept. 13 at the Coliseum.
The sophomore compared Ohio State linebacker James Laurinaitis, a returning All-American and Bronko Nagurski Trophy winner, with his counterparts at USC, Rey Maualuga and Brian Cushing.
"Laurinaitis was pretty fast," Locker said. "He played sideline to sideline."
Locker compared the Ohio State star's style most closely to Cushing's. He said Maualuga was slightly different.
"Rey was a little bigger. He comes up and hits you hard."
More than two years after allegations surfaced that Reggie Bush received extra benefits while at USC, Pac-10 Commissioner Tom Hansen said that college football continues to investigate the matter.
If it is determined that Bush violated NCAA rules, he could be deemed retroactively ineligible. Bush also faces a civil lawsuit filed by one of two would-be sports marketers from whom he and his family allegedly received cash and gifts.
"We're still involved, the NCAA is still involved," Hansen said. "Beyond that, I have no comment."
The civil suit is on hold until Aug. 1, when a San Diego judge is scheduled to consider a defense motion to have the case proceed through arbitration.