FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- The joy remained etched on Pete Carroll's face, fighting crease by crease with the fatigue that comes from an all-night celebration. The chair next to him, reserved for quarterback Matt Leinart, went unoccupied.
"Let's say he's not the lone victim," the USC coach said. "It was Mardi Gras right there at the (Westin) Diplomat. Families and kids and coaches and players, all dancing and having a wonderful time together. ... I challenged them not to go to sleep last night until the sun came up, and I made sure they didn't. I was right there with them."
Carroll accepted four national championship trophies Wednesday morning, the spoils of the 55-19 rout of Oklahoma in the FedEx Orange Bowl Tuesday night. The Trojans became the first team to win consecutive Associated Press titles since Nebraska in 1994-95. The opportunity to evolve into a dynasty beckons.
Carroll talked about the importance of recruiting and the importance of work ethic, but he acknowledged that there is a magical air about the Trojans, and he intends to keep inhaling it.
Someone asked him when he would begin working on next season. He said he already had.
"I have people tell me, 'Just relax,' " he said. "Don't tell me to relax. I'm having a frickin' ball. We get to do this for six months, be on top of the college football world. We'll likely have a good chance to be the No. 1 team next year. Shoot, that's awesome, awesome stuff. I don't want to get very far away from it. It's too much fun."
No team has ever won three consecutive AP national championships. Leinart, with a 25-1 résumé, two titles, a Heisman Trophy and an Orange-Bowl-record five touchdown passes against the Sooners, may not return for his senior season. But as Carroll ran through his depth chart for the 2005 season, it became apparent that the Trojans would survive without him.
Four starters on the offensive line return. So do tailbacks Reggie Bush and LenDale White. As Oklahoma focused its defensive attention on Bush, holding him without a touchdown for only the third time this season, White burst through the middle of the extended Sooner defense for 118 rushing yards and two touchdowns on only 15 carries.
Receivers Steve Smith and Dwayne Jarrett, both of whom struggled at times this season, had 100-yard games. Smith, who missed half the season because of injury, caught seven passes for 113 yards and three touchdowns, two of which illustrated the athleticism that sets these Trojans apart.
"Stevie comes back, total pass interference, guy is pulling his left arm out, diving catch hitting the ground, back line of the end zone 50 yards down the field," Carroll said, sounding like a man who never went to bed. "Just an out-of-sight catch."
The defense will suffer greater losses. Senior linemen Shaun Cody and Mike Patterson, as well as linebacker Matt Grootegoed, have started for all four of Carroll's seasons.
They did against Oklahoma what they do so well. Cody and Patterson tied up the Oklahoma offensive line, while Grootegoed came in with punishing blows. He made five of his seven tackles in the first quarter, forcing Oklahoma to account for him in ways it didn't foresee.
Still, Carroll referenced one thread that has run through all four of his Trojan teams.
"We're a great turnover team," he said. "We've done it again. We're plus-19 for the season, and that's a lot of turnovers. I think we're (plus- ) 13, 18, 21 and 19 in the four years, and it's the primary theme in our program, and it continues to be."
As is winning the national championship. They're making a habit of that at USC, too. The Pacific-10 Conference, its honor redeemed by the Trojans, will be more difficult next season. Arizona State and Oregon State, both bowl winners, return relatively intact next season, and the Trojans must play at Tempe. In fact, the last back-to-back No. 1 stumbled there. The 1996 Huskers lost their opener to the Sun Devils, 19-0.
The season remains eight months in the distance. In the meantime, the Trojans have much to do -- starting with sleep.
Ivan Maisel is a senior writer at ESPN.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.