BERKELEY, Calif. (AP) -- To the rest of college football, No. 1
Southern California is a monolithic winning machine with 31
straight victories and designs on a third straight national title.
To the Golden Bears, the Trojans mostly are their high-school
friends and opponents from all across their home state. They're
talented, but hardly unbeatable -- as California showed two years
ago in USC's last loss.
"In California, football is kind of a small world," said Cal
linebacker Ryan Foltz, who went to the same high school as two USC
players. "It helps to know that they're just a bunch of college
kids just like us. There's a lot of pride that we were the last
team to knock them off. We take pride in always playing well
against these guys."
USC (9-0, 6-0 Pac-10) is back at sold-out Memorial Stadium on
Saturday for another meeting with the Bears (6-3, 3-3), who fell
out of the rankings this week for the first time since 2003 after
their third loss in four games.''
But Cal still has a mental foothold on the Trojans, who have
been perfect since that triple-overtime, 34-31 loss in Berkeley in
2003. New quarterback Matt Leinart and emerging freshman star
Reggie Bush fell behind early and never got ahead of the fired-up
Bears in a game that stretched well past sundown.
"I know Cal has had a great time with this fact," USC coach
Pete Carroll said. "They've had a lot of fun with it. I'd like to
not let them have so much fun with it. We'd like to win the game
and put that one behind us a little bit."
According to Carroll, there was an additional factor in the
Trojans' loss: They arrived in Strawberry Canyon 45 minutes earlier
than necessary, leaving the players twiddling their thumbs in the
stadium's disgusting visitors' locker room.
"I found myself standing on the top of the stadium looking at
Marin County," said Carroll, a Marin native. "I'm waving to home
and that kind of crazy stuff, just killing time. We kind of lost
our edge, and it's not the nicest locker room in the world.
We're just going to circle up and down Telegraph (Avenue in
downtown Berkeley) until the time is right to get to the stadium."
Timing shouldn't be a problem this season for the Trojans, whose
merciless offense has been held under 40 points just twice all
season. USC has been clicking since its last-second victory over
Notre Dame in October, outscoring its last three Pac-10 opponents
But the Bears have the players, the motivation and the
brainpower to make things tough on USC. Cal coach Jeff Tedford and
defensive coordinator Bob Gregory nearly engineered another upset
last season, but receiver Jonathan Makonnen slipped on the final
play from scrimmage and was unable to catch one last pass from
Aaron Rodgers in USC's 23-17 victory at the Coliseum.
"We're the only team that's put a blemish on them in recent
history, and all the attention we got from that is a good
feeling," Cal guard Aaron Merz said. "But it's different now,
especially for us. All their big names on the defensive line from
last year, except for (Frostee) Rucker, are gone. Now, I'm hearing
stories about how good their new guys are."
Though Tedford and Gregory seem to know more about consistently
slowing the Trojans than any other coaching staff, they would never
publicly acknowledge any extra insight on this matchup, instead
praising USC's seemingly endless supply of talent and smarts.
But that 2003 victory allowed Cal to claim a measure of parity
with USC -- a measure that helps in recruiting, where the Bears have
stolen receiver DeSean Jackson and a few other California kids who
might have struggled for playing time with the Trojans.
"There's no question that since (the Bears) have grown up with
(the Trojans)," Tedford said. "There's a lot of familiarity with
the people involved. That raises the attention level, because
you're playing with your peers."
But Cal quarterback Joe Ayoob isn't exactly Leinart's peer yet,
and that might decide the game. The Bears couldn't win last season
even when Rodgers was practically perfect, and Ayoob's
inconsistency was a big factor in all three of Cal's losses this
"The season, it seems like it lasts forever," said Leinart,
the nation's leader in passing efficiency with statistics up
significantly from his Heisman Trophy-winning numbers. "At the
same time, it goes by very fast. I'm trying to relish these
moments. Every day, I'm going to try and soak something in, have
fun with my boys, my coaches. Hopefully we can go out a winner."
Top 25 Overview
USC won't lack motivation for this one. Cal gave the Trojans its last loss in 2003 and last year, USC needed a defensive stand on first and goal in the final two minutes for victory. Scouts, Inc.: Matchups to watch