Imagine the plight of USC's Reggie Bush. He is, unless somebody like Ohio State's Ted Ginn proves otherwise, the most scintillating college...

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LOS ANGELES — Imagine the plight of USC’s Reggie Bush. He is, unless somebody like Ohio State’s Ted Ginn proves otherwise, the most scintillating college football player in the nation.

But guys like Washington’s Joe Lobendahn and WSU’s Will Derting have something on Bush. They’re mere linebackers, but they’ve now known the rush of Pac-10 football media day, which took place here yesterday in an airport hotel.

Pity Bush. He’s said he wants to win a Heisman Trophy, and he can’t even be the designated guy — one only, thank you, even if you’re USC — to tag along with Trojans coach Pete Carroll and answer to a sea of tape recorders and microphones.

At USC, national champions the past two years, you have to get in line for things like this. The ultra-professional Trojans probably have a depth chart even for media day, and on that two-deep, Bush, the team’s top running back, is second-string. The starting spot yesterday was manned by a guy who has already won the Heisman, quarterback Matt Leinart.

“With coach Carroll,” said Pac-10 assistant commissioner Jim Muldoon, introducing the Trojan twosome to a podium, “Heisman Trophy winner, returning, Matt Leinart.

“Never been able to say that before.”

Yes, he’s back and they’re back. The Trojans have become as repetitive as “Tribute to Troy,” the grating dirge regularly drummed out by their marching band.

You could say it was a welcome-back session here hard by LAX. There was UW’s Tyrone Willingham , back in the league after a prickly three years at Notre Dame. A lot of people were warmed to see him again, if not his team; the writers and broadcasters gave the ultimate thumbs-down to the Huskies, forecasting them for an unprecedented 10th place in the league.

There was Cal’s Jeff Tedford, whom a lot of people would have bet on representing somebody else’s program, maybe in the pros. But he signed a lucrative new five-year contract in December that not only staked him to Berkeley, it opened the door for Willingham’s hiring at Washington.

“There’s no better place to be than Cal right now,” Tedford said. “We’ve been able to keep continuity on the coaching staff, we have a lot of support from the administration.”

Graybeards in the audience recognized that Stanford’s new coach, Walt Harris, also is returning to his roots on the West Coast after an eight-year stint at Pittsburgh. Harris, 58, grew up in the Bay Area and was coach at his alma mater, Pacific, from 1989-91.

Harris’ last glimpse at this conference was as an assistant at Cal from 1974-77. He may conclude nothing’s changed: USC is still kicking butt and taking names.

Get ready to hear the nature of Troy’s 2005 quest over and over again: It’s the 11th program in college football history with a chance to win three straight national championships.

The 10 before them failed. Gamblers always say you don’t bet into a streak, but if you saw the horror the Trojans inflicted on Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl last January, you don’t rule them out, either.

Carroll has always been good at getting his team to focus. Now all he has to do is convince it not to buckle under the burden of a century’s worth of history.

“This isn’t a conversation I need to initiate,” Carroll said. “We can’t do anything about that [the hunt for three titles]. Our focus and attention isn’t about any kind of number you can put up, any kind of wins, or championships or any of that stuff, it’s about practicing really well.”

If the Trojans don’t get to the Rose Bowl — site of the championship game this year — Carroll may have only himself to blame. He’s the defensive guru, and it’s on that side of the ball that USC returns a scant five starters.

“Hopefully, we can get great energy from Matt and his side of the ball,” Carroll said, “and buy some time for us defensively.”

How much time do you need? Leinart — “Mr. Big-Time over here,” Carroll needled — Bush and a truculent offensive line appear capable of putting up 40 points a game in their sleep.

Here’s what’s happened after USC went 40-4 since a point in October 2001: It has become the first team in league history to put a hard cover on their media guide.

The book will thus be enduring. The USC football team is in search of the same distinction.

Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or

Pac men
Defending national champion USC is the unanimous choice to win the Pac-10 title in a preseason poll of West Coast media members who regularly cover the league. The poll has correctly selected the conference champion in 22 of 44 previous polls, including the last five years in a row. Following are the results (points 10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1, first-place votes in parentheses):
Team Pts
1. USC (41) 410
2. California 300
3. Arizona St. 296
4. Oregon 290
5. UCLA 282
6. Wash. St. 189
7. Oregon St. 159
8. Arizona 131
9. Stanford 106
10. Washington 92