PASADENA, Calif. (AP) – Coach Pete Carroll takes pride in being distinct. The same can be said for Southern California’s football team, which during the past five years has produced one of the great runs in college history.

“We are trying not to be normal,” Carroll said. “We are trying to do this in a different fashion.”

The No. 2 Trojans almost surely will lock up a third straight appearance in the BCS title game by beating crosstown rival UCLA today at the Rose Bowl.

“We are trying to find a different way to maintain a focus that separates us,” Carroll said. “We work really hard to control what we can in the present and leave what’s happened in the past out of our conversation.”

Carroll, for example, tries to make practice enjoyable, running with the players, throwing passes, and keeping everyone loose. Often, hundreds watch from the sidelines – family, friends, boosters, youth groups and, on occasion, celebrities.

“The way Pete Carroll coaches, we could be 12-0 and if it wasn’t fun, that wouldn’t be enough,” senior center Ryan Kalil said. The approach is so successful the Trojans get just about every top player they recruit, enabling them to keep winning. USC (10-1, 7-1 Pac-10) is 55-3 since the middle of the 2002 season, with the three losses by a total of eight points.

Consider the last five years:

• The Trojans finished the 2002 season by beating No. 3 Iowa 38-17 in the Orange Bowl, leaving many believing they were the nation’s best team at season’s end.

• They were bypassed for the BCS title game following the 2003 season despite being ranked No. 1. They beat Michigan 28-14 in the Rose Bowl, resulting in a piece of the national championship.

•They dominated Oklahoma 55-19 in the BCS title game following the 2004 season, and lost to Texas 41-38 in a classic national championship game last year.

The Trojans had a 31-28 record in the five years before Carroll was hired, and went 6-6 in his first season. They’re 58-5 since. USC entered this year with only 10 returning starters, and lost one of them, safety Josh Pinkard, to a season-ending knee injury in the opener. While the Trojans have struggled at times, they’ve outscored their last four opponents 144-43 after a 33-31 loss at Oregon State.

“They’re playing well, really well,” UCLA coach Karl Dorrell said. “Our defense will play well. Offensively, the concern I have, we’re going to have to put some points on the board. We’re going to have to execute as well as we’ve executed all season long. We know that.”

The Bruins (6-5, 4-4 Pac-10), have done an exceptional job defensively in their last two games – a 25-7 victory over Oregon State and a 24-12 triumph over Arizona State.

Dorrell decided Wednesday that Patrick Cowan, who has started UCLA’s last six games at quarterback, would get the call against the Trojans rather than Ben Olson, who started the first five games but hasn’t played since tearing a knee ligament Oct. 7.

Cowan has passed for 1,428 yards and nine touchdowns with seven interceptions.

“Patrick has played very well, he’s done a lot of really good stuff,” Carroll said. “He’s going to run around a lot and take off out of the pocket and he’s got a big arm, too.”

USC counters with John David Booty, who’s passed for 2,682 yards and 25 touchdowns with eight interceptions.

“I see a pretty good leader,” Dorrell said. “I’m impressed with what he’s been able to do in his first year as a starter.”

The Trojans have a 41-27-7 record in the series that dates to 1929, when they beat the Bruins 76-0. USC has won seven straight, including a 66-19 triumph last season.

“If you can’t get fired up for this game, you shouldn’t be here,” Bruins cornerback Trey Brown said. “No matter if they were 0-5, 0-12, 12-0, and whatever our record is, it doesn’t really matter in this game. Strap it up and get it on.”

USC most likely will face No. 1 Ohio State in the BCS title game if it beats UCLA. Win or lose, the Bruins will oppose Florida State in the Emerald Bowl on Dec. 27 in San Francisco.

“It has no bearing,” Carroll said. “It’s about this game. We love this matchup and we love playing it.”

The Trojans beat UCLA 66-19 at the Coliseum last year and 29-24 at the Rose Bowl two years ago.

“We can’t be too involved in what they’re trying to do – only ourselves,” Dorrell said. “I really enjoy being the underdog. There’s a lot less pressure and people aren’t expecting as much.”

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