LOS ANGELES (AP) – Center Ryan Kalil, one of the few seniors on the Southern California roster who plays on a regular basis, smiled when the question was posed:

Have the Trojans accomplished enough in the past five years to be considered a dynasty? “I would call it fun,” Kalil replied Tuesday. “I know we’ve won a lot of games, been in championship games over the years and we might be in another one.

“Having fun is the most important thing. The way Pete Carroll coaches, we could be 12-0 and if it wasn’t fun, that wouldn’t be enough. It’s a fun thing, especially at the college level. I’ll never have a chance to play for a team like this again.”

Carroll’s teams are 55-3 since the middle of the 2002 season – his second as the Trojans’ coach. The three losses have been by a total of eight points, with the most recent a 33-31 setback at Oregon State on Oct. 28.

USC (10-1, 7-1 Pac-10) has won four straight since then, outscoring the opposition 144-43. That combined with a series of upsets to other contending teams put the second-ranked Trojans in position to play in their third straight Bowl Championship Series title game should they beat crosstown rival UCLA (6-5, 4-4) on Saturday.

Such a scenario seemed unlikely last spring, when 19 USC players worked out for around 100 NFL representatives, with those in attendance marveling at the talent leaving school.

And it seemed even more unlikely after the loss at Oregon State.

But Carroll said at the time anything could happen, and he was right – should the Trojans beat the Bruins for the eighth straight time, they’ll almost surely play No. 1 Ohio State on Jan. 8 in Glendale, Ariz.

Among the offensive players to leave after last season were quarterback Matt Leinart, tailbacks Reggie Bush and LenDale White, offensive linemen Winston Justice, Deuce Lutui and Fred Matua, and tight end Dominique Byrd.

“We weren’t expecting something like that,” wide receiver Chris McFoy admitted.

“We knew people were going to look down on us because we lost so much talent,” tight end Fred Davis said.

Carroll said it was clear following the recruiting season last winter that the Trojans would have enough talent and depth to be successful, despite the lack of star power and experience.

“That doesn’t mean you can’t play to the same level,” he said. “You do it differently. We were very hopeful we could have a very good team if we could survive the first few games.”

The Trojans did more than survive, beating No. 8 Arkansas 50-14 and No. 19 Nebraska 28-10. Then, hit hard by injuries, they had a much more difficult time once Pac-10 play began, at one stage winning three games by a total of 19 points.

“This team has really grown,” Carroll said. “We still feel like it’s a work in progress.”

In its last four games, USC has beaten Stanford 42-0; Oregon 35-10; No. 21 California 23-9, and No. 12 Notre Dame 44-24.

Asked about the Trojans’ recent dominance, Carroll said: “It’s a lot of stuff. You can’t do it without the talent level. You can screw it up. I don’t think we’re playing beyond our capabilities. We’re playing to our capabilities. When we do that, we’re hard to beat.”

Carroll has called the defense the fastest he’s had in his six years at USC. It’s also the youngest, with only three seniors listed as first or second stringers. A junior, two sophomores and a freshman start in the secondary, with their backups all sophomores.

Three seniors start on offense.

“We have recruited really well over the years,” Carroll said. “We should be winning these games. I’m proud of where we are. We have a chance to maintain our level of play based on the depth of our roster.”

Carroll isn’t fond of talking about the BCS and what a victory Saturday would mean.

“It would be wrong, I think, to not admit what the situation is,” he said. “We’ve already done that. We don’t have to do it anymore. We’ve proven the value of focusing on what’s ahead of you, to have a great time today. The truth is, the BCS is sitting out there. When they tell us what we’re doing, we’ll do it.

It’s enough to keep us totally immersed in what we’re doing,” Carroll said of playing UCLA. “It’s real easy, this isn’t hard at all. This is a great game.”

AP-ES-11-28-06 1941EST

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