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Trojans start where they want to finish: No. 1

Times Staff Writer

USC, one of only two schools to go wire-to-wire at No. 1 in the history of the Associated Press college football poll, will get another chance to become the first to do it twice.

The Trojans were installed at No. 1 on Saturday after receiving 62 of 65 first-place votes in the AP media poll. Times writers do not vote in polls.

USC started and finished No. 1 in 2004, joining Florida State’s 1999 team as the only ones to go wire-to-wire. The Trojans fell short of repeating the feat when Texas beat USC in the 2006 Rose Bowl.

“We feel comfortable being here and we want it to feel normal,” Coach Pete Carroll said of opening the season at No. 1.

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Louisiana State is ranked second, West Virginia third, Texas fourth and Michigan fifth.

Senior quarterback John David Booty shrugged when asked about the Trojans’ ranking.

“We’re glad to be there. but it doesn’t mean anything,” he said.

Keeping freshmen grounded is among the challenges of remaining No. 1, according to senior linebacker Keith Rivers.

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“Sometimes you have young guys, they’ve seen all this success, but they don’t understand it’s a grind,” he said. “It’s a long season and people don’t just fold. They come with extra juice, they eat their Wheaties.”

All-American tackle Sam Baker returned and participated in both the morning and afternoon practices as the Trojans went through their final double-day workouts.

Baker is nursing a rib fracture and the last few days off also helped rejuvenate his knees.

“Physically, it’s been good for me, but mentally I’ve struggled with it,” Baker said after the no-pads morning practice. “It’s hard on an offensive lineman. Those are your guys and you have to sit there and watch.”

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Tackle Drew Radovich (back) also participated on a limited basis.

Though he has not been cleared for contact, junior cornerback Kevin Thomas completed much of both practices for the first time since training camp began.

Thomas started the opener last season against Arkansas but sprained his ankle and missed the next two games. He sat out the final seven games because of a broken foot and could not participate in spring practice after shoulder surgery.

“I started last year and was one of the top corners,” Thomas said. “I don’t feel I’ve been forgotten about.”

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Thomas, however, returns to a crowded secondary.

Josh Pinkard, who started the opener at safety last season, also is playing cornerback after returning from knee surgery and he is challenging Cary Harris to start opposite Terrell Thomas. Shareece Wright, Vincent Joseph and Mozique McCurtis also are competing for playing time.

Freshman running back Joe McKnight, who is wearing a knee brace and not practicing, said he had stretched a medial collateral ligament and was day to day. . . . Safety Will Harris said he would probably miss two weeks because of a left ankle sprain. Harris was injured during Thursday’s scrimmage but continued playing. “That lets me know it wasn’t that bad,” he said. . . . Receiver Vidal Hazelton (groin) returned, but Brandon Carswell remains out because of a thigh bruise. . . . Starting left guard Jeff Byers was absent to attend a weekend seminar as part of his master’s degree program in business administration, offensive line coach Pat Ruel said. . . . Freshman defensive lineman Michael Reardon said he would have an MRI exam on his left hip and knee today.

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gary.klein@latimes.com


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