In between the No. 1 rankings

The last time the USC Trojans were ranked No. 1 in the AP top 25 poll, as they are today, was the week of Sept. 22, 2008.

That Thursday, Pete Carroll's hyped squad was dramatically upset by a 1-2 Oregon State team. In retrospect, it didn't necessarily mark the start of the Trojans' temporary demise, as USC's no-doubt Rose Bowl win over Penn State three months later was still a relatively high point for the program.

But this much is true: Nationally, USC was not thought of in the same way since that week.

Until now, that is.

Two weeks before the start of the Trojans' 2012 season, USC is once again facing the same sort of expectations it did that Thursday night in Corvallis, Ore. In some ways, it feels like it's been so long since then; in others, it feels like it's been a few minutes.

Think of everything that's happened since.

Heck, on Sept. 22, 2008, Matt Barkley's most recent game was a 47-35 loss to Centennial High with the Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.) Monarchs. He hadn't even signed with the Trojans yet.

Only seven current players -- one-tenth of the scholarship roster -- were on the team back then. Safety Drew McAllister is the only current Trojan who played in that game.

Further, the program -- and university, really -- has endured a complete changing of the guard. USC has a new president (Max Nikias), a new athletic director (Pat Haden), a new coaching staff (Lane Kiffin & Co.) and a new athletic facility (McKay Center). Very few people could have predicted those four things would come true less than four years from that day in 2008.

But, even so, a lot of things about the Trojans are still the same. Kiffin has grown into some similarities with Carroll, even though he'll never appear as carefree or playful. Barkley is very reminiscent of the USC quarterbacks of the mid-2000s, on and off the field, and it's not hard to imagine safety T.J. McDonald as part of the 2004 or 2005 defenses.

Receivers Marqise Lee and Robert Woods are different in stature from the top receivers of the Trojans' previous dominant stretch, but they're just as good, if not better.

And there's still a sense -- true or not -- that USC faces an easier schedule than its potential BCS Championship Game opponents, although the institution of the Pac-12 championship game should help that somewhat.

The Trojans' fourth game of this season, at home against Cal, will be four years to the day from their last No. 1 ranking. If they're still ranked No. 1 by the end of that night next month, they'll be a lot closer to the ultimate goal, this year and that year: the BCS title.

Even if they do drop in the rankings between now and then, it probably won't be 47 months until they're atop again.