As expected, USC moved up from third place to second in the wire-service poll rankings Monday behind top-ranked Notre Dame.
With UCLA, previously the top-ranked team, losing to Washington State, 34-30, Saturday at the Rose Bowl, it was almost automatic that the Trojans and the Irish would climb one notch--and they did.
However, USC Coach Larry Smith said Monday in essence that it’s still business as usual for his team despite its improved national stature.
“It hasn’t changed our thinking one bit,” Smith said. “I keep saying this, but rankings are only until the next week, just like you’re only as good as how you played the last game and the next game.
“We’re not concerned either way about rankings, we’re not disappointed and we’re not running around all jubilant because we moved up a notch. That’s where we are, so, hey, let’s focus on the next game and not farther.”
In both the Associated Press and United Press International polls, the top four are Notre Dame, USC, Miami and West Virginia.
Smith, who votes in the UPI poll, wouldn’t disclose his ballot.
Asked whether he believed that his Trojans (7-0) should be ranked ahead of Notre Dame (8-0), Smith said:
“I’m not even worried about that. I know we play the team in front (Notre Dame on Nov. 26) and another team (UCLA on Nov. 19) that should be up there, too, so it will be decided on the field anyway.
“So my sitting around worrying, or stewing about it, or being concerned about it won’t help one way or another, and I’m not anyway. We just have to keep ourselves in a position that it (a final top ranking) will all come about.”
The ranking is USC’s highest since it was placed No. 2 on Nov. 4, 1981.
Since the inception of the AP poll in 1936, Notre Dame has won 7 national championships, more than any other school in the country. USC claims five national championships by the wire-service polls, the last in 1978. Other methods of selection honored the Trojans as the nation’s No. 1 team in 1928, 1931 and 1932.
USC has Pacific 10 games remaining with California here Saturday and at Arizona State Nov. 12, before the season-ending games with UCLA and Notre Dame.
Smith was asked if he would prefer that the Bruins were still ahead of the Trojans in the rankings as a motivational tool.
“I don’t think at this stage it makes any difference where anybody is,” he said. “We’re both going to try to beat each other’s brains out anyway. It’s an intense rivalry. Both teams could be 0-10 or 10-0 and it doesn’t make any difference as to who’s where.”
As for added pressure that a No. 2 ranking might have on USC, Smith added:
“I don’t think it keeps any more pressure on us. As for keeping the players focused, that’s my job. I hope we’re a mature and intelligent enough football team to realize we’re going to play a team Saturday in Cal that has plenty of firepower to beat us, or anybody else in the conference both on offense and defense.
Smith said it isn’t necessary to remind his team that Washington State, a 21-point underdog, upset UCLA.
“They read the papers and have watched television and listened to radio. I don’t think I have to bring it up,” he said. “I know they’re looking at it (UCLA’s loss) and saying, ‘I don’t want that to happen to us.’
“There’s a little fear motivation of the bear chasing you in the woods and, in this case, the bear is the bear. It’s the Cal Bear.”
USC Athletic Director Mike McGee, a former football coach, said the only ranking to consider seriously is the final one. “If you get too involved in rankings before the last one, it could come back and bite you,” he said. . . . Three area sportswriters participated in the Associated Press poll: Steve Grimley of the Orange County Register, Doug Spoon of the San Gabriel Valley Tribune and Ed Zieralski of the San Diego Tribune. All three voted for Notre Dame in the top spot with USC second. Grimley said he has had Notre Dame top-ranked since it beat Miami Oct. 15. . . . USC wide receiver Erik Affholter said the Trojans are in a good situation in the sense that they have the opportunity to play the No. 1 team as well as meeting a prestigious team such as UCLA. “We control our own destiny,” he said. . . . Notre Dame most likely will come into the USC game top-ranked because it will be substantially favored to beat Rice and Penn State.