- David Lombardi, ESPN Staff Writer
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BURBANK, Calif. -- Starting quarterback Cody Kessler was a reserve on the 2012 USC squad that was ranked as the nation's preseason No. 1, but he is confident that the Trojans are ready to avoid a similar letdown.
"That year, they enjoyed [the preseason accolades] more than they should have," Kessler said at Pac-12 media days. "I told the guys it means nothing. I think we're better suited to handle it this time around because of all we've been through."
On Thursday, the media voted USC as the Pac-12 favorite for the first time since 2012, which ended in a catastrophic stretch-run implosion for the Trojans.
Kessler discussed the tumultuous journey that USC's upperclassmen have been through -- one that has included NCAA-sanctioned scholarship reductions, a two-year bowl ban, a pair of coaching changes and some particularly gut-wrenching losses -- and suggested that the Trojans are battle-hardened as a result.
"It's been tough. It really has," Kessler said. "But I feel these guys are prepared for anything and can handle anything that comes their way. Especially the older guys, they are going to keep a steady mindset no matter what."
Coach Steve Sarkisian, meanwhile, asserted that high expectations -- while flattering -- come as part of the territory at one of college football's most storied programs playing in one of the nation's biggest media markets.
"We came here to win championships," Sarkisian said. "At some point, those expectations were going to be what they were. How quickly, we didn't know. But if the expectations were going to be too big, this wasn't going to be the place for you."
Defending Pac-12 champion Oregon, which had been picked to win the conference the past two years, shrugged off USC's anointment as the 2015 preseason favorite.
"We can all go home," coach Mark Helfrich joked. "It's done."
He said the Ducks players can feel free to use the media's pick of USC as motivation, if that's what helps them focus on the task at hand.
"If someone is sitting at home going, 'Those jerks didn't vote us for whatever,' and then go lift, then great," Helfrich said. "But we don't think about that too much."
USC will visit Oregon's Autzen Stadium on Nov. 21, the programs' first matchup since 2012.
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