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USC is once again the Pac-10 favorite but is U¢LA closing the Gap?

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Even in the face of losing a whole starting defense their starting QB and a top receiver USC continues to be picked as the favorite to win the Pac-10 in 2009.

One of the big themes at Pac-10 media day was USC's apparent vulnerability after a seven-year run atop the conference.

The Trojans are rebuilding one of the best defenses in college football history. Their quarterback, whoever it ends up being, has never seen significant game action.

Well, as USC's official preseason release notes, reports of the Trojan demise ... well, where are these reports?

Almost everyone predicts USC will win its eighth consecutive Pac-10 title -- see a decisive margin in the Pac-10 media poll -- and be in the national title hunt. Or at least finish in the top four of the AP poll for an eighth consecutive time.

It is pretty simple to me that until USC is dethroned as the conference champs they will always be picked as the favorites to win.

How many times have we read that this may be "X" team's year to push SC off of the top of the hill...yet it has not yet happened. SC continues to fill key positions with top talent that seems to just fit perfectly. Pete Carroll has indicated that USC will be his last job. Maybe, maybe not...I tend not care about that until it actually happens and when it does I will worry about it then.

Of course, the chatter is ratcheting up about how the gap is closing between USC and ucla. Rick Reilly is the latest to try and decipher where things are between the two programs...and he comes to many of the same conclusions that we have read and discussed here in the past.

Let me say this first, sure LA is big enough for the two programs but in what capacity? I can't remember when both USC and ucla were both vying for a national title at the same time. It has always been one or the other. For the most part USC and ucla have always gone after the same recruits...you win some and lose some but it is what you do with your recruits not just that you get them. I think its difficult for the two programs to compete for the MNC at the same time but it would be great to watch.

Here are some other interesting observations from the article.

In style, energy, and cool, Neuheisel might as well be Carroll's knockoff little brother. And like any annoying little brother, Neuheisel has tried everything to get Carroll to notice him.

"It's like we're fishing," Neuheisel says. "We can feel them messing with the lure. We're trying to get them to bite."

Yeah, notice that right out the blocks Reilly makes the case that once again Slick Rick is more concerned about what USC/PC is doing than worrying about his own program. That has always been the difference, Pete Carroll doesn't try to emmulate anyone but himself.

UCLA hasn't sniffed a Pac-10 title in a decade.

Not far away? It's a round-trip ticket to Mars.

"Not really," Neuheisel insists. "Since my freshman year [at UCLA in '79], the rivalry is 15-14-1 [USC]. This is do-able."

And just for the record: QB Neuheisel and a severely underdog 1983 Bruins team whipped USC his senior year and went on to win the Rose Bowl. "I've seen it happen here before!"

Slick Rick has to go a long way back to try and make the programs look equal. But once again as I have said a million time before...in USC's down years in the 80's and 90's ucla still couldn't get a #1 ranking at the end of the season. It has just never been there. Now, no one will question Slick Rick's accomplisments at UW and Colorado (especially the 57 NCAA violations) but remember a lot of that "success" came with players that he didn't recruit. Once those players were weeded out/moved on the numbers showed a very different result when it it was just his recruits on the field.

This passage is rich and once again shows how desperate Slick Rick is to be noticed...

I drove across town to see if big brother was hearing a faint noise from Westwood. Carroll wouldn't even sniff.

"He knows you boogie-boarded the Hermosa Beach pier," I said. "But he says he'll whip you at golf."

"I believe it!" Carroll said. "I don't play."

Hmmm....again Pete just doesn't care.

Pete was more concerned about what DeWayne Walker was up to than he was the rest of the ucla coaching staff for the obvious reasons...Walker knew how Pete Carroll operated and he exploited it in a win that will always define ucla's 2006 season. Once again it was all about USC. Sure, that 13-9 win kept SC out of a third possible BCS Tiltle Game but that was the only thing ucla could point to...they did nothing after that, including wetting the bed against FSU in the Emerald Bowl.

Finally, there is this...

Last year, the two bumped into each other at Inglewood High School, recruiting the same player. The story goes that Carroll said to Neuheisel, "The UCLA coach is out recruiting an L.A. kid? Crazy."

To which Neuheisel said, "Won't be the last," and walked away.

Well, knowledgeable CFB fans will give Slick Rick his props in improving the recruiting at ucla but really thats not saying much. Neuheisel has a lot more of pulse than his predecessor so to use the fishing analogy form Reilly's piece he could dry hook them, it really didn't take much. I don't expect Neuheisel to back down, that is good for the rivalry but he is nuts if he thinks that he will take PC off his game with all the little stunts he pulls. Oh sure PC will notice but it won't be a distraction either.

You can try to parse it anyway you want but until ucla actually wins something this is all a bunch of what if's...