USA Today 2012 Preseason Poll: The Case Why USC Should Be No. 1
One of the things that makes college football so unique is that there is a poll that ranks the teams in order from best to worst. Other sports, you have writers that create power rankings, but it has nowhere near the same reaction that fans have when they see these polls every week.
With the 2012 college football season just weeks away from kicking off, the preseason USA Today Poll has been released to the college football world to critique. While you can split hairs about which teams deserve to be where, almost every fan is immediately looking at the top of the list and checking out who is considered the best team in college football.
According to the coaches, the best team is the LSU Tigers, a team that lost the national championship and has to replace six starters on the defensive side of the ball. Alabama is the next team in line, a team that also has to replace many starters on defense, and has a special teams unit that will certainly cause Nick Saban to lose sleep at night.
The No. 3 team in the country is the USC Trojans, a team that returns 17 starters from a year ago, and is finally eligible to participate in the postseason.
Lane Kiffin's club may not be No. 1 in the coaches poll, but this why they should be to start the season.
Offense is beyond great
Now college football has its fair share of great offenses, but I don't know the last time we saw an offense that was this loaded on paper. Matt Barkley is somebody who could be starting for an NFL team right now; instead, he is playing quarterback for the Trojans. He is also coming off his best season yet, completing 69 percent of his passes for over 3,500 yards, 39 touchdowns and limiting his mistakes to just seven interceptions. He is without question the favorite for the Heisman Trophy and came back for his senior season for only one reason.
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Barkley is enough to make any offense good, but it also helps having the best wide receiving corps in the country as well. Robert Woods and Barkley have a connection like none other, connecting 176 times for over 2,000 yards and 21 touchdowns in just two seasons. There were four games last season were he had double-digit repetitions. And that doesn't include Marqise Lee, a receiver who caught 73 passes his freshman season. At 6'0", he has the size, speed and leaping ability to not only become the best receiver in college, but to become a top 10 pick in the NFL at some point.
Running back Curtis McNeal rushed for over 1,000 yards last season as well. At 5'7", he has the speed to take it the distance anytime the ball is in his hands, as he averaged nearly seven yards a carry last season. Not to mention the Trojans also landed Silas Redd from Penn State, another 1,000-yard rusher. And having played in the more physical Big Ten, he should have a field day in the Pac-12, where many of the players are a lot smaller and not quite used to his abusing, downhill running style.
Overall this is by far the most talented offense in the country on paper. I'm not sure any defense in the country will truly be able to slow it down. There will be plenty of explosive plays this season, and it wouldn't surprise me if many NCAA records fall as well.
Pac-12 team that plays defense
While the offense is certain to receive majority of the attention, the defense will come to play as well. This is a unit that returns eight starters and ranked 55th in the country last season in yards allowed. Expect it to be much better this time around.
The group of linebackers have much needed experience, as Kiffin decided to start three linebackers at the position. The defensive line will lack experience, but having two seniors coming off the edge should help mask some of those weaknesses.
Who should be considered the No. 1 team?
The secondary is certainly the strongest unit of the defense, as it is loaded with depth, talent, and experience. T.J. McDonald is an All-America selection who is one of the hardest hitting safeties in the country and makes a huge difference to this team. Jawanza Starling is another safety who is beginning to grow as a player and should be ready to have a huge season. And then you have Nickell Robey at cornerback who is the definition of a shutdown corner and was a first-team All-Pac-12 selection last season.
It's one thing to be great on one side of the ball, but, when you can play a complete game, that is when you can seriously start talking about a possible national championship.
The two teams that are ranked above the Trojans were at the National Championship just last season. Alabama has won two of the last three, while LSU has been to two in the last five years, winning one in 2007. Of course those teams are not looking to settle, but USC has been banned from the postseason the last two years. They haven't reached a BCS bowl since 2008.
There is a reason that Barkley and so many others have decided to come back for their senior season, and that is to win a national championship. This team is out on a mission this season and anything less than that will be considered a failure.
There is a chip on these players' shoulders and they will not take anything for granted this season. Not being ranked No. 1 in preseason poll has just added a little bit of fuel to the fire that has been burning the last couple of years.
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