"I think it's pretty hard to keep us out of it because of the strength of schedule that we've had to play during the season," Carroll said on Tuesday. "I think from start to finish, it's been an extraordinary schedule. I don't know if anybody compares to it--you guys would know better than I would. But I have never figured it out or added it up. I don't care to but I know it's about as hard as you can get."
Carroll is talking about a non-conference schedule that included a 50-14 whipping of No. 5 Arkansas on the road and a 21-3 home win over No. 23 Nebraska. The third contest on the slate doesn't get any easier. USC hosts No. 6 Notre Dame this weekend in Los Angeles. Kickoff is scheduled for 8:13 EDT and ABC will have the television coverage. After the Irish, the Trojans face UCLA in the regular season finale. Carroll's rationale is that if his team can get through these two contests with wins, they are more deserving than Michigan for the right to play the Buckeyes in the national championship game. The USC head coach, though, doesn't quite get all the nuances of the flawed system.
"Whenever you talk BCS, I get confused," Carroll said.
What is not confusing is the program Carroll has built out at USC. He knows how to win football games: the Trojans have been victorious in 54 of the past 57 contests. Carroll has dominated the Pac-10: USC had captured five straight conference championships. More importantly, he can take the program to the promised land: the Trojans have won two of the past three national championships and have gone to five straight BCS games.
Carroll and his team have had their share of ups and downs this season. USC struggled in victories over Washington State, Washington and Arizona State before finally succumbing to Oregon State 33-31 in Corvallis. Some teams would have folded the tent after a loss to an unranked team. The Trojans did the opposite, winning the last three contests by a margin of 100-19, including two over ranked opponents. The last game, a home date with California, saw USC trailing 9-6 at halftime. But two fourth quarter touchdown passes from quarterback John David Booty saved the team's title hopes.
"9-6 at halftime, I didn't care," Carroll said. "It didn't matter. It was what was going to happen at the end that was what was important. We felt like we had figured out what we needed to do and how we could find out ways down the field on offense and stop them on defense. Fortunately, we came out in the second half and shut them out and outscored them 17-0 and won a terrific football game for us."
Now, Notre Dame sits between possibly the Trojans reaching Glendale, AZ on January 8th. The two head coaches are familiar with each other. Carroll and Weis have seen a lot of each other in the NFL, where both men kept flip flopping between the New York Jets and the New England Patriots. It doesn't take long to figure out these two individual have polar opposite personalities. Weis is more the tough talking East Coast guy while Carroll represents the laid back, carefree attitude.
"Charlie is from New Jersey," Carroll said. "I was born in San Francisco. I'm damn proud of being born in San Francisco. I just think it's the totally different backgrounds. Totally backgrounds growing up--totally different backgrounds in coaching with different mentors and all that. There's a lot of ways to do it. You don't have to do it the same way. We're totally different in the way we approach our game.
"I saw Charlie Weis on TV wearing a coat and tie around campus. I haven't done that very many times since I've been here. There's just a big difference between us but hopefully in the history of our times going against each other in the NFL and all, we've both turned out pretty good and stuff. I think the contrast is obvious and it's broad. I don't know that--to tell you the truth--I really don't know that much about how they do stuff on the inside...how they talk and all that. But I do know that we just come from a different background...kind of a different lineage in coaching and all."
All that is left is to play the game. Notre Dame will want to avenge last year's 34-31 home loss. USC wants to reach another championship game. Weis wants to beat Carroll and finally have a signature win on his resume. Carroll wants to continue the dominance of the Trojan football program by beating the Irish for the fifth straight season. USC has the home field advantage. Notre Dame has the advantage of never having lost on the road under Weis. Saturday's contest should be another classic in the rivalry and Carroll thinks his bunch stacks up well with the Irish.
"I think we match up alright," Carroll said. "We know them. We know their personnel. We know their style some now after a year of playing them and seeing them during the season. We're going to not have any issues that we can't match up I don't think. I think their defensive line is really stout and really good. Victor Abiamiri and Derek Landri are really, really good football players. And these are number one draft pick guys. Those guys can be a factor that can change the game for them but I think we can handle it and we're surely going to try to find out during the week."
***The USC Sports Information Department contributed greatly to this report.