Since dropping its conference opener a month and a half ago, Southern California has played like a national title contender. Before getting caught up in any national title hype, though, it needs to first win the Pac-10.
The seventh-ranked Trojans look to win their sixth straight game on Saturday when they host No. 21 California -- another one-loss Pac-10 team.
USC (7-1, 5-1) has won a share of the last six Pac-10 titles, and owns a half-game lead atop the conference over the Golden Bears (6-2, 4-1) and Oregon State.
The Beavers upset the then-No. 1 Trojans 27-21 on Sept. 25, and USC has been taking out its frustration from that loss on each opponent since.
The Trojans have outscored their last five opponents 207-27, posting shutouts in three of the last four. In last Saturday's 56-0 win over Washington, USC had 18 first downs and 325 yards of total offense in the first half, compared to two first downs and 35 yards for the Huskies.
With the victory, the Trojans improved to 24-0 in November games since Pete Carroll was hired as coach in 2001.
Despite its resounding victory over the Huskies, USC dropped two places to seven in the BCS standings. Carroll isn't worrying about the BCS race, instead trying to keep his team focused on winning the Pac-10.
"If we were measuring it right up to this point, we're playing the best," Carroll said. "We've got a big finish here coming up against really good teams and good coaches. To this point, we're right up there. We've had good fortune with the teams we've played as well.
"If we can get this win, squeeze out the next couple, we have a chance to be right in the thick of things in that consideration. Most importantly for us is to win this conference. That's what we're trying to get done. It's always been our goal."
The Bears have won four of five, and are coming off a sloppy 26-16 win over then-No. 23 Oregon last Saturday in a rainstorm, as Cal turned the ball over five times.
Nate Longshore passed for 136 yards and a touchdown in place of Kevin Riley, who suffered a concussion on a vicious hit late in the first quarter.
California coach Jeff Tedford said Friday that Longshore would make his third start of the season and Riley will be available. Longshore started for the Bears in 2006 and 2007, but lost his job in training camp this year to Riley.
Longshore has thrown for 375 yards, two touchdowns and four interceptions in two career starts against the Trojans -- both losses.
The Trojans are first in the Football Bowl Subdivision in total defense (211.6 yards per game), scoring defense (7.1 points per game) and opponent passer rating (82.3). They have held their last three opponents to a combined 488 yards and have forced seven turnovers.
"We set a goal at the beginning of the season to swarm to the ball on every play, keep our intensity up," USC linebacker Rey Maualuga said. "Our best defensive play is still ahead of us."
The Trojans' offense has been just as sharp, as quarterback Mark Sanchez leads the Pac-10 with 22 passing touchdowns, 1,884 yards and a 163.3 passer rating.
USC defeated Cal 24-17 last season, and has won four straight in the series since a 34-31 loss on Set. 27, 2003. The Trojans have also won the last three meetings at the Los Angeles Coliseum, where they have won 42 of their last 43 games overall.
Top 25 Overview
USC has taken no prisoners since losing to Oregon State on Sept. 25, outscoring foes 214-20. The Trojans are 24-0 in November under Pete Carroll. Cal has won four of its past five games, including a win over No. 24 Oregon last week.