Spring ball is finally over for college football, which means we can focus on what counts: the college football regular season. While everybody is around the water cooler discussing which teams have a chance to win it all this season, some sites are already putting together their preseason Top 25.
ESPN has just released their Top 25, and the way they see things is pretty interesting to say the least.
At No. 1, we don't find the defending national champion Alabama Crimson Tide. It's not the LSU Tigers who only lost one game a season ago. It isn't an SEC team at all. Nope, they believe the USC Trojans are the No. 1 overall team heading into the year.
Did ESPN get it correct?
Returning Starters: 17 (including punter and kicker)
Of course, everybody is going to argue why the Trojans are the top team in the poll. It's only natural that it's going to happen, and the debate would begin regardless of which team ended up on top. One of the arguments you could make against USC is the fact it hasn't done anything to earn this ranking.
Sure, they were banned from postseason play for two seasons, but that has nothing to do with the fact that the Trojans got blown out of the water last year by Arizona State and lost at home to Andrew Luck and Company.
Is it really fair to put them over teams in the SEC that play tough competition every week and reached last year's national championship? After all, both Alabama and LSU return several key players on both sides of the ball and are likely just as worthy of this spot in the poll.
Did ESPN get it right with USC being the No. 1 team?
The same team that lost to the Sun Devils last year is pretty much the same team that returns this season—except that there are questions on the offensive line with Matt Kalil leaving. Who's going to protect Matt Barkley's blind side, and will he be successful? You know the Trojans have no true backup quarterback, so what happens if things don't work out then?
The Trojans also lack running back depth and are extremely limited in the backfield. With Tre Madden out for the season (per Sporting News), the Trojans only have two running backs under scholarship in Curtis McNeal and D.J. Morgan. That can't provide a good feeling for head coach Lane Kiffin.
Well, you can't exactly get any higher than the No. 1 spot of course, but is there a true case for why they are the team to beat this season? Sure there is.
For one, they have the best quarterback in the country in Matt Barkley, hands down. He was an absolute beast last season, completing 69 percent of his passes, throwing for over 3,500 yards and 39 touchdowns—all while limiting his interceptions to just seven. He should have received an invite to New York for a possible Heisman Trophy, but we'll save that argument for another time.
Barkley also has oodles of weapons at the receiver position in Robert Woods, Marqise Lee, George Farmer, De'Von Flournoy and Victor Blackwell. Nearly all of those names are capable of being a true No. 1 wideout for nearly any team in the country with their skill sets.
That has to be a huge reason this team is in the spot they're in. They have a future NFL star at the quarterback position and tons of talent around him. This offense averaged nearly 36 points per game a year ago, and there's a great chance they can top those numbers this year—solid running game or not.
They also return seven starters on the defensive side of the ball, including the entire secondary. There are concerns on the defensive line, particularly at the tackle positions, but as an overall group this defense should be solid enough to win many games. The secondary was ranked ninth in the Pac-12 last season, but with a year of experience and two 2011 All-Conference players returning, you should see much better results.
You could make a case that an SEC team should be in this position, but having USC isn't a bad choice at all. This is a team that's very balanced, has an offense that can score with anybody in the country and has a defense that is solid enough to get by.
The Trojans also have a cupcake of a schedule, so don't be surprised if this team is in the national championship hunt this season. This could be the team that snaps the SEC's national title streak.