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COACHES POLL OPEN FOR USC.

Byline: Scott Wolf Staff Writer

It is possible for USC to claim the No. 1 spot in the coaches' top-25 poll Sunday night, even though by arrangement, the coaches are obligated to award their championship to the Sugar Bowl winner.

That's because USA Today, which administers the poll, will allow coaches to vote with their conscience, which leaves the door open for the Trojans to finish first in the poll.

``However the ballots come in, that's the way we'll tabulate them,'' said Jim Welch, USA Today's deputy managing editor for sports. ``Whoever they were to select No. 1, that's who we will enter. It's important to conduct it fairly as we always have.''

The American Football Coaches' Association sent a letter to the voting coaches asking them to vote for team Nos. 2-25 in the final poll, to be released Sunday. However, USA Today requests coaches to give teams from No. 1 to No. 25.

``The coaches can call in and leave whatever message they want,'' Welch said.

Welch said he will release full poll results Sunday night.

No matter what happens, the AFCA will award its national championship trophy to the winner of the Oklahoma-Louisiana State game.

Thirty-seven of the 63 coaches voted for USC to be No. 1 in the final regular-season coaches' poll. Michigan coach Lloyd Carr, who voted USC No. 1, said after the Rose Bowl he would honor the association's wishes and vote the Oklahoma-Louisiana State winner No. 1.

Ironically, when Carr congratulated USC coach Pete Carroll at midfield after the Trojans' 28-14 victory in the Rose Bowl, he said, ``You've just won the national championship.''

Carroll said he didn't really know how the coaches' poll worked.

``I don't know if people can vote differently or if they vote at all,'' he said.

It is expected that enough coaches will heed the advice of AFCA executive director Grant Teaff and vote the Sugar Bowl winner No. 1, though some have expressed dismay with the process.

Welch said USA Today already has had several conversations with the AFCA about requiring the coaches to vote the winner of the BCS title game their national champion.

``That's of concern to us when we're in a situation where we worked very hard to see to it we have a credible poll,'' Welch said.

In a final twist, Carroll is scheduled to address the AFCA this week at its national convention in Orlando, Fla.

Asked what he would be doing during the Sugar Bowl, Carroll joked about the coaches' poll.

``I'll be on the phone calling a lot of them,'' he said.
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jan 3, 2004
Words:432
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