USC coach Pete Carroll preached this week that the Trojans can clinch a Rose Bowl bid with a victory tonight over Arizona at the Coliseum.
Hopefully, the Trojans bought the argument better than the Rose Bowl, which won't have an official representative at the game. Even they are resigned, perhaps, to the idea the No. 1-ranked Trojans will play in the Orange Bowl for the national championship.
Carroll loathes looking ahead, so this week's talking points included constant references to the Rose Bowl.
"A Rose Bowl bid, that's an incredible accomplishment for us," Carroll said. "We love that chance. The team is excited about it."
Yes and no. It's nice to seal a Rose Bowl bid, especially with two regular-season games left on the schedule, but that's hardly why USC's playing football this season.
"The Rose Bowl, that's our bowl, but if we went to the Orange Bowl, that would be better," senior linebacker Matt Grootegoed said.
Undeterred, Carroll banged his message all week. At least he came up with some thin thread of a motivational tactic. He certainly didn't have one by talking about lowly Arizona.
The Wildcats (2-7, 1-5) are one of the worst teams in the country, but not the worst team in the Pacific-10 Conference, thanks to a victory over pathetic Washington last week.
Arizona already has played three top-10 teams (Utah, Wisconsin, California) and came closer than anyone else to upsetting the Badgers in a 9-7 loss. The Wildcats get their fourth top-10 team tonight.
"A ridiculous way to go about your first year," said Arizona coach Mike Stoops, struggling through his inaugural season.
Even worse, the Wildcats are 0-17 against ranked teams dating to 2000. Did someone mention the Rose Bowl is at stake? Anyone?
Late this week, Carroll finally admitted he's on notice against any signs of a letdown because of the opponent.
"I'm on it, I'm working on it," he said. "But if we win, there will be some [celebrating] in the locker room."
Fortunately for the Trojans (9-0, 6-0), playing a cupcake isn't something new. Their previous home game was against Washington, just before the Huskies announced coach Keith Gilbertson would be fired after the season.
Their entire schedule isn't exactly daunting. USC's opponents enter this weekend with a 42-38 record. Oklahoma's are 48-33.
That argument won't be settled unless the Trojans win their remaining games. A homecoming crowd will see if USC can claim its 20th successive home victory, which would tie a school record.
"I didn't really know that," Grootegoed said. "I'm not a stat guy. Our goal is to win every home game. We could win 100 in a row, and it wouldn't matter to me."
Grootegoed takes some pleasure in the difference between Coliseum crowds today and his freshman year.
"Without a doubt, that place gets a lot louder, with 70,000-plus or 90,000 people," he said. "When I was a freshman, I don't want to bring it up, but it was nowhere near as loud. I remember getting booed off the field once."
Boos are unlikely tonight; a crowd of 70,000 is expected.
"This is a championship opportunity for us," Carroll said. "There's so much to play for."
Perhaps with that in mind, the Orange Bowl will have a representative at the game.
No. 8 Georgia (8-1) at
No. 3 Auburn (9-0)
Auburn faces a big test this week in its quest for a spot in the national title game. Auburn is third in the BCS standings and will likely need some help to make it to the title game. The Tigers are coming off a bye week, while Georgia has won three in a row since being upset by Tennessee. Auburn will look to run the ball, while Georgia quarterback David Greene is now the winningest quarterback in college football history.