Trojans top preseason poll for fifth straight year

LOS ANGELES -- New Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh's preseason rankings have the Southern California Trojans at No. 1 -- possibly of all-time.

"There is no question in my mind that USC is the best team in the country and may be the best team in the history of college football," Harbaugh said Thursday at the Pac-10 football coaches' annual media day.

USC coach Pete Carroll smiled when he came to the podium later and was told of Harbaugh's assessment, which might put some added pressure on the Trojans.

"You've gotta love Jim, huh? I'm glad he thinks that," Carroll said. "There's no way I would have any way of understanding what that's all about.

"We're just a bunch of guys trying to put together a terrific team, and we'll see how far that takes us," he said.

After pausing for a moment, Carroll grinned and added quietly, "Thanks, Jim."

The four-time defending Pac-10 champion Trojans were selected for the fifth year in a row as the favorite to win the conference title. They received all 39 first-place votes in a preseason poll of media members who regularly cover the conference.

Only three times in the 46 years of the poll has a team been a unanimous preseason pick to win the title -- and it's been USC every time, including 2004 and 2005.

For the fourth consecutive year, California was picked to finish second. The Golden Bears tied USC for the league championship last season when both finished with 7-2 conference records.

The Trojans got 390 points in this year's balloting, with 10 points for No. 1 in the conference and one point for No. 10. Cal received 323 points, and UCLA was third with 305.

Arizona State (242 points) and Oregon State (237) rounded out the top five, followed by Oregon (226), Arizona (162), Washington State (115), Washington (98) and Stanford (47).

The poll has correctly predicted the Pac-10 winner 24 of 46 years and has been right seven years in a row.

Former Washington State, Miami, Oregon State and NFL coach Dennis Erickson, back in the Pac-10 with Arizona State, said the Trojans should be in the NFL.

"They're as good as there is in the country," he said.

Washington State coach Bill Doba considers the Pac-10 relatively well-balanced, with the exception of the Trojans.

"USC obviously is the cream of the crop right now. I think the rest of the league is pretty even," Doba said.

Asked what it would take to beat the Trojans, he said, "I think SC has to beat themselves. I think he [Carroll] just has to guard against overconfidence or not being prepared or having really, really, really bad luck."

He added, "They're a really good team. They're something."

The Trojans were also loaded last season, but they still lost twice in the Pac-10. Oregon State upset them 33-31 on Oct. 28, and then UCLA beat them 13-9 in the regular-season finale on Dec. 2.

USC went on to defeat Michigan 32-18 in the Rose Bowl to finish 11-2.

While not talking specifically about USC, Oregon coach Mike Bellotti said he expects the Pac-10 to "be a close race, and I think there will be some surprises."