Untitled Document Southern Cal, undefeated and top ranked, is in position to win an unprecedented third consecutive national championship.

And unless the Trojans’ defense climbs the statistical charts during the last half of the season, USC would make history by defying the old adage that "defense wins championships.’’

In this past week’s NCAA Division I-A statistics and before the USC-Washington game, the Trojans were ranked 45th in total defense (350 yards per game) and 35th in scoring defense (21.2 points per game).

"We’re workin’ on stuff constantly,’’ USC coach Pete Carroll says. "We had been making progress, but we regressed.’’

Carroll, who is also the Trojans’ defensive coordinator, had to replace six starters from last season’s 13-0 team.

For USC, the best defense has been a prolific offense. The Trojans are No. 1 in total offense with 613 yards per game, and their 48.6 points per game is second to Texas Tech.

Winning a national championship by outscoring the opposition? Winning a title with a semi-porous defense? Somewhere, Bear Bryant is shaking his head in disgust.

"Most recently, the teams that have won national championships have had great defenses,’’ said Michigan coach Lloyd Carr, whose 1997 national title team led the nation in total and scoring defense. "Year in and year out, on a consistent basis, the best teams have a great defense.’’

The numbers support Carr’s contention.

The 12 teams to win national championships during the past decade (twice during that period teams shared titles) averaged an 11.9 ranking in total defense and allowed an average of 282 yards per game; those teams averaged a 7.6 ranking in scoring defense and allowed an average of 14 points per game.

And during the past 10 years, the team with the worst defense (statistically) was USC. The 2003 team that finished No. 1 in The Associated Press poll was 30th in total defense and 17th in scoring defense.

"I think you’d have a hard time winning a championship without a defense,’’ Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer said this week. "Over the years, it’s a proven fact.’’

In the Trojans’ 28-game winning streak, Notre Dame is the only team to score more than 28 points. Last Saturday, the Irish lost, 34-31, as USC won despite a season-low 476 yards in total offense.

If that’s the start of a trend, the end of USC’s winning streak could happen because the Trojans’ offense almost failed to make up for its defense.

"The more games you play, the more chance you have of playing a bad game on offense,’’ said Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville, whose 13-0 team led the nation in scoring defense last season.

(c) 2005, Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.