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CHRIS DUFRESNE / ON COLLEGE FOOTBALL

USC can't win every year, can it?

Pete Carroll's Trojans are favored to win their eighth consecutive Pac-10 title.

July 31, 2009|CHRIS DUFRESNE | ON COLLEGE FOOTBALL

USC football was anointed and exalted and ceremoniously slobbered on Thursday at another Pacific 10 Conference media day during which the Trojan Horses were picked to win the league in a Secretariat-type runaway.

It marked the seventh (yawn) consecutive media day USC has been christened (boring) to win the Pac-10 title.

What happened to going out on a limb?

OK, it might have something to do with the Trojans' having won or shared seven straight conference titles while appearing in seven straight major bowls and winning two national titles along the way.

No wonder much of Football Nation refers to the conference as the Pac 1, even though the league was 5-0 in bowls last year and USC got to play in only one of them.

First-year Commissioner Larry Scott, looking for ways to promote his entire ensemble, jazzed up the day with highlight videos and that loud music kids these days seem to like.

The guy who loved it most?

"We've got music, highlights," Trojans Coach Pete Carroll remarked. "It's fun to be a part of."

Sure, if you're him.

We can report this conference arms and legs race is narrowing. Last year, USC fell a vote short of being a unanimous selection (one wag sided with California); while USC this year received "only" 28 first-place votes, with Cal collecting three and one person pinning a tail on Oregon.

Enough of this nonsense -- USC's dominance has to end some year. Not even the Huns could ransack and pillage forever.

If you're a Pac-10 team looking for that rare window of opportunity, this year could be it.

Not only does the cloud of an NCAA investigation continue to hover over USC, with a "welcome-to-media-day" story in this paper Thursday alleging another possible violation, USC is also changing a few tires.

The Trojans must replace eight starters from a star-studded defense and will open camp with a new quarterback, Aaron Corp, who is skinnier than a preseason pole.

If not now, Pac-9 challengers, when?

USC's toughest conference games this year appear to be at Cal on Oct. 3 and at Oregon on Halloween.

We thought Cal, which shocked USC in Berkeley back in 2003, might be USC's annual nemesis, but the Bears have since lost five straight in the series.

Cal may be primed again this year, let by Jahvid Best, the fastest tailback the league has seen since Reggie Bush.

"It's been frustrating," Cal Coach Jeff Tedford confessed. "The games are always so close. You really want to find a way to win."

Oregon State has defeated USC two out of the last three years, yet neither triumph secured the conference's automatic BCS bid.

Somehow, USC always comes out on top.

It's not just about beating USC in a given year. You also have to defeat the rest of your schedule.

Last year, Oregon State controlled its Pac-10 title and Rose Bowl fate after whipping USC early but blew it at season's end when Oregon routed the Beavers, 65-38, in Corvallis.

"Once we beat them, we held all the cards," Oregon State Coach Mike Riley lamented Thursday, "but we didn't finish the deal."

UCLA ended up 4-8 in Rick Neuheisel's first year and is probably a year away from challenging USC's dominance.

That doesn't mean Neuheisel isn't scheming about it every night.

"Every program has the same conversation . . . it's going to be us," he said of the USC problem. "Every day you've got to take care of your own ship, and when the day comes to take down the champ, you've got to bring it. The question is: Can you go toe to toe with them?"

Conference rivals can't wait around hoping the NCAA Infractions Committee, which has already spent years on the Bush case, will be the team that dethrones USC. The Cals and Oregons and Arizonas may have to do this on the field.

In 2003, during the supposedly "vulnerable" post-Carson Palmer era, USC trotted out at Auburn, in the opener, a quarterback who had never taken a college snap -- Matt Leinart.

USC is the rare team that can transition into national titles.

Arizona Coach Mike Stoops says Pac-10 schools are at least plotting a siege of the king's castle.

"I think it's getting harder and harder," Stoops said of USC's ability to order league title rings months in advance. " . . . but they're still a cut above."

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chris.dufresne@latimes.com

twitter.com/DufresneLATimes

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