This time, UCLA is the hot team coming in

Pete Carroll has seen the scenario unfold before.

A team struggles through the first part of its conference schedule and appears to be out of the bowl picture. Then it puts together three consecutive victories heading into its annual showdown against its crosstown rival.

That was USC in 2001, Carroll’s first season as the Trojans’ coach.

USC was 1-3 in the Pacific 10 Conference before winning three games in a row. The Trojans extended the streak with a 27-0 victory over UCLA, finishing 6-5 and earning a bid to the Las Vegas Bowl.

The next season, USC started a run of seven consecutive Pac-10 titles and Bowl Championship Series bowl appearances.

On Saturday, second-year UCLA Coach Rick Neuheisel and his once-struggling team will arrive at the Coliseum riding a three-game Pac-10 winning streak. The 6-5 Bruins have designs on a postseason invitation.


“They’re trying to get moving forward and make progress in the program,” Carroll said last week. “It would be the biggest win in years for them for all the right reasons.

“We don’t want to give that away.”

USC coaches returned to campus Sunday after an open date gave them a weekend to recruit locally and nationally.

Players, meanwhile, had nearly three full days to rejuvenate physically.

But the Trojans, 7-3 overall and 4-3 in conference play, still must prove they can bounce back from a humiliating 55-21 loss to Stanford at the Coliseum.

The defeat continued to reverberate after Stanford lost Saturday against California. The Trojans on Sunday fell two spots to No. 20 in the BCS standings and two spots to No. 24 in the Associated Press media poll.

USC’s remote hope for a six-way first-place tie in the Pac-10, which would have given them a Rose Bowl bid, ended when Oregon State defeated Washington State on Saturday.

Today, USC begins preparing for a UCLA team that has given up a conference-low 20.6 points a game and also ranks first in turnover margin and tackles for losses.

Bruins safety Rahim Moore leads the nation with nine interceptions and kicker Kai Forbath is first with 26 field goals.

Quick hits

Receiver Damian Williams, who did not play against Stanford because of an ankle injury, was scheduled to try running today. . . . Defensive end Everson Griffen (toe), tailback Allen Bradford (knee) and tight end Blake Ayles (knee) are among the players expected to resume practicing.