USC is AP's overwhelming preseason No. 1

NEW YORK -- After a season of chasing, Southern California
is again the team being chased.

And that's just the way coach Pete Carroll and the Trojans like

For the third time in the past four years, USC begins the
college football season No. 1 in The Associated Press Top 25.

"It's exactly where we hope and expect to be," Carroll said.
"It's a symbol of what we're all about."

Southern California received 62 of 65 first-place votes and
1,622 points from a panel of media members. USC easily outdistanced
No. 2 LSU in the poll released Saturday. The Tigers received two
first-place votes and 1,511 points. They haven't started a season
ranked this high since 1959, when they were preseason No. 1.

No. 3 West Virginia received the other first-place vote. The
Mountaineers have never been ranked higher in the preseason. No. 4
Texas and Michigan round out the top five, and defending champion
Florida is sixth.

USC has been the country's top program since 2002, going 59-6
with two national championships and a near-miss. This season, the
Trojans expect to walk away from the BCS national championship game
in New Orleans with the crystal football.

"That's what we're here for. We're here to do it better than
anybody has ever done it before," Carroll said. "That's the
single thought. That's what drives us. If that's the case, you want
to be No. 1 forever."

For the Trojans, this is the 82nd time they've been No. 1 in the
poll. Only Notre Dame (95), Oklahoma (95) and Ohio State (88) have

Much of the Trojans' time at No. 1 has been since late in 2003,
when they took the top spot at the end of the regular season and
finished No. 1 the AP poll -- despite being left out of the national
title game. LSU finished No. 1 in the coaches' poll.

The next season USC became the second team, joining Florida
State in 1999, to be No. 1 all the way and was the undisputed
national champ.

The next season, USC nearly pulled the wire-to-wire trick again,
but Vince Young and Texas relegated the Trojans to No. 2 in the end
by winning a 41-38 thriller in the Rose Bowl.

Last season, USC was in the top 10 all season, but never did get
to No. 1. The Trojans were No. 2 going into the final week of the
regular season, but with a chance to play for another national
title they lost 13-9 to UCLA.

USC bounced back with a resounding 32-18 victory over Michigan
in the Rose Bowl and that set the stage for the Trojans to start
this season as an overwhelming No. 1.

The rest of the top 10 has Wisconsin at No. 7, followed by
Oklahoma, Virginia Tech and Louisville.

Ohio State, last year's preseason No. 1 and the loser of the
national title game to Florida, is No. 11 to start the 2007 season.
No. 12 is California, followed by Georgia, UCLA and Tennessee.

No. 16 Rutgers is ranked in the preseason for the first time, as
is No. 23 Hawaii.

Penn State is No. 17 and Auburn, Florida State and Nebraska
round out the top 20. Arkansas, TCU, Hawaii, Boise State and Texas
A&M are the final five.

The Southeastern Conference has six ranked teams, most of any
league. The Big Ten and Big 12 are next with four and the Pac-10
and Big East have three each.

The Trojans are preseason No. 1 for the sixth time overall,
tying Nebraska for third most. Only Oklahoma (nine) and Ohio State
(seven) have been top-ranked in the preseason by AP more often.

These Trojans have another star quarterback in John David Booty,
who could become the third USC passer to win the Heisman Trophy in
the past six seasons, joining predecessors Carson Palmer and Matt

"He's a natural-born quarterback," Carroll said. "He's got
five years of experience. He's been through everything you need to
be good."

Booty should have plenty of options, with about a half-dozen
high school all-American running backs on the roster and a slew
fast and talented receivers. But it's the defense that makes this
USC team special.

The Trojans have potential All-Americans all over the field, and
perhaps the nation's best linebackers in Brian Cushing, Keith
Rivers and Rey Maualuga.

"They're big and fast and smart and they know what they're
doing and they love to play the game," Carroll said.

Up front, defensive end Lawrence Jackson and tackle Sedrick
Ellis are the stars. In the secondary, Terrell Thomas is a
lock-down cornerback and sophomore Taylor Mays has drawn
comparisons to such great USC safeties of the past as Dennis Smith
and Troy Polamalu.

How good can this defense be? Just ask Michigan, which had its
vaunted offense smothered in Pasadena, Calif., on Jan. 1.

"We have a lot of experience and tremendous speed," Carroll
said. "We'll find out how good they are when we start playing."

If USC is as good as most believe, chasing down the Trojans
could be too much to ask.