No. 14 USC has outside shot at No. 1

USC is not eligible to be ranked in BCS polls such as the USA Today coaches’ poll or the Harris poll but debuted at No. 14 in the Assoiated Press poll, which was released Saturday morning.

It’s the first time USC has started a season ranked outside the AP top 10 since 2002, Pete Carroll's second season as USC’s coach. It actually could be considered a generous ranking when you consider USC’s tumultuous offseason which included Carroll’s abrupt departure, Lane Kiffin’s controversial return (his third head coaching job in three years), the loss of 12 starters and NCAA sanctions that included a two-year bowl ban.

The ranking is significant because the AP national championship is the only trophy USC is playing for this season. If the Trojans go undefeated they can’t play in the BCS national championship game. If they win the Pac-10, the second-place finisher would go to Rose Bowl. But if USC goes undefeated and finishes the season as the No. 1 team in the AP poll, the Trojans could still win the AP national title.

It’s a long shot, but when you’re constantly being told you have nothing to play for, as USC has been since NCAA sanctions came down in June, having a chance to win a national championship is at least a tangible goal.

“We know we can still win the AP title,” said senior tailback Allen Bradford. “We can't really think about going 13-0, we have to play each game like it's our last game and win each one.”

USC is currently scheduled to play two ranked opponents: No. 11 Oregon at home on Oct. 30 and No. 24 Oregon State in Corvallis on Nov. 20. Four other USC opponents (Stanford, Notre Dame, Arizona and Washington) received votes in the AP poll and have a shot to be ranked when USC plays them. The Trojans will need as many of those teams as possible to be ranked to have a shot at moving up in the poll.

USC, which finished last season 9-4, hasn’t finished a regular season undefeated since 2005 and hasn't made it past October without a loss since then. In fact, the Trojans have lost the third game of the season the past two years. Bradford, however, says he thinks USC will surprise some people this season.

"The only way we're going to be able to express ourselves is in those 13 games," Bradford said. "This year is going to be a real surprise. I'm glad everybody [doesn't have] us at the top. I'm glad. I'm happy."