The game certainly was not one to remember, but the team that won it is.
The USC Trojans were so dominating, so overwhelming, in their Orange Bowl victory against Oklahoma on Tuesday night at Pro Player Stadium that by Tuesday morning talk already had turned to next year and doing it again.
Pete Carroll, bleary-eyed from a night of celebration and lack of sleep, was not backing down from the challenge. He appeared ready to get up and go after it again. Now.
"We'll likely have a great chance at being the No. 1 team coming into next year," said Carroll, the USC coach whose team has now won 22 straight games and consecutive Associated Press national championships as well as this year's ESPN/USA Today title. "Shoot, that's awesome, awesome stuff. I don't want to do anything different than that. The thought processes are already going."
After a shockingly easy 55-19 victory over OU, the Trojans are in position to become the first team to win three straight AP national titles. The Trojans became the 10th in history to win two in a row with their dominating triumph, led by quarterback Matt Leinart, the Heisman Trophy winner who threw five touchdown passes and was named the game's most outstanding player.
With more than a dozen starters returning from this team, another title run hardly seems out of the question.
The big question will be if Leinart returns. The junior left-hander has lost just one game as a starter and might not ever be hotter to NFL scouts. Although he maintained throughout the season that he would complete his eligibility and said Tuesday night that "going for a three-peat" and playing next year's title game in the Rose Bowl would be hard to pass up.
But he also admitted it is very tempting to cash in on his success. Carroll, who coached for 16 years in the NFL and had two stints as a head coach, is advising Leinart to stay. But he's not worried if he leaves, either.
In his four years at Southern California, Carroll has made a habit of inserting young players into his lineup and getting them to perform.
"That's a real exciting part of our program is to continue to try to develop the young guys at as fast and accelerated pace as we can create," Carroll said. "We need to continue to bring in some kids that will push. The way we do it, the younger you are, the more opportunity you get. And we want to find out which kid can be a championship player for us as soon as we can possibly find it out. Our team knows how that works. They have to compete around the clock just to maintain their position on the football team, and without that constant competition, I don't think we can achieve this kind of level."
Leinart led the Trojans to a share of the national championship in 2003 despite never having thrown a college pass before the season began. If he decides to turn pro, Carroll can turn to former Louisiana prep star John David Booty or Mark Sanchez, regarded as one of the top quarterback prospects who will be a junior-college transfer.
LenDale White, who rushed for 118 yards and two touchdowns, will be back. So will Reggie Bush, who had 75 yards on six carries and caught two passes for 31 yards. And so will Steve Smith, who caught seven passes for 113 yards and three touchdowns.
Seven starters return from the defense that limited OU tailback Adrian Peterson to 82 yards on 25 carries _ his second-lowest output of the season _ and kept quarterback Jason White from throwing a touchdown. White was intercepted three times and sacked twice.
"We had no way of knowing it would be a game like it was," Carroll said. "But it certainly was an extraordinary memory for all of us."
ESPN / USA TODAY
FINAL TOP 15
1. Southern California 13-0
2. Auburn 13-0
3. Oklahoma 12-1
4. Texas 11-1
5. Utah 12-0
6. Georgia 10-2
7. Louisville 11-1
8. Iowa 10-23
9. California 10-2
10. Virginia Tech 10-3
11. Miami 9-3
12. Michigan 9-3
13. Boise St. 11-1
14. Florida St. 9-3
15. Tennessee 10-3
25. Florida 7-5
_ Final AP poll, 3C