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Time for the Real Rivalry

Times Staff Writer

As top-ranked USC basked in the afterglow of its third consecutive rout of Notre Dame, the Trojans were already looking ahead to what they regard as their real rivalry game against UCLA.

Trojan defensive lineman Shaun Cody, a senior who played his final college game at the Coliseum on Saturday night, said the 11-0 Trojans are positioned perfectly for a push toward a berth in the Jan. 4 Orange Bowl, this season’s bowl championship series title game.

“My senior year has just been magic so far -- everything has just fallen into place,” Cody said. “We play UCLA now for all the marbles to get into the big game.”

USC’s 41-10 victory over the Fighting Irish kept the Trojans atop both major polls Sunday and helped them recapture some first-place votes they lost to No. 2 Oklahoma and No. 3 Auburn last week.

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With Oklahoma and Auburn idle, USC received 52 first-place votes in the Associated Press media poll -- four more than last week -- and 1,610 points. The Trojans had lost three first-place votes last week.

USC also is No. 1 in the ESPN/USA Today coaches poll and will maintain their No. 1 spot in the BCS standings today.

Several USC players said they were aware of media reports last week that questioned their status as a lock for the Orange Bowl if the Trojans, Oklahoma and Auburn finish unbeaten.

“They can calculate it, put it in the computer -- we’re still No. 1,” senior safety Jason Leach said. “They can talk, talk, talk as long as they want. As long as we keep winning we’ll be OK.”

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Last week, Coach Pete Carroll did not focus on the tradition of the USC-Notre Dame rivalry. This week, he knows there will be no escaping the annual build-up to the cross-town rivalry, especially with USC trying to earn an Orange Bowl berth.

By game-time Saturday, UCLA will have had three weeks of preparation for USC.

“They’ve had plenty of time to check us out, that’s for sure,” Carroll said Sunday.

Carroll said he spoke with Notre Dame Coach Tyrone Willingham after Saturday night’s game about a fake punt play in the fourth quarter that visibly angered several Notre Dame assistants. The play resulted in a pass interference call against the Fighting Irish and set up Matt Leinart’s fifth touchdown pass.

Carroll said Willingham told him there was no problem.

“I think Tyrone understood we were trying to make a first down,” Carroll said.

Carroll said he was not trying to run up the score or impress poll voters. “This is playing the game -- this doesn’t have anything to do with campaigning,” he said.


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