How Does the USA Today Preseason Poll Alter USC's BCS Path?

Rick McMahan@@RickMcMahanSenior Writer IAugust 5, 2012

How Does the USA Today Preseason Poll Alter USC's BCS Path?

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    Earlier this week, the USA Today coaches preseason poll was released, and to few fans on the West Coast's surprise, it contained a lot of SEC love.

    LSU, who is ranked No. 1 in the poll, returns only five starters on defense and will be breaking in a new quarterback.

    At No. 2, the coaches, in their infinite wisdom, placed an Alabama team that returns a total of 11 starters, including only four on defense.

    Meanwhile, USC, who returns 18 starters, including the prohibitive Heisman favorite, quarterback Matt Barkley, is ranked third, probably because it doesn't play in the deep south where reputation will get you further in this polls ranking than reality.

    However, despite the odd rationale that placed the Trojans only third, there is little reason for fans of the men of Troy to worry.

    This slide show will look at the impact of the coaches poll ranking and see if it will provide a pitfall for USC as they move through the 2012 season.

    Will this No. 3 ranking be a major hindrance for USC?

    No, and here's why...

SEC Continues to Benefit from Their Reputation

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    In some ways, it is hard to fault the perception that the SEC is just plain a better football conference than any other in the sport.

    After all, they have strung together quite an impressive resume heading into the 2012 season, with eight BCS titles, including the last six since the series began in 1998.

    The next closest conference (Big 12) has two championships.

    So it should be expected that the SEC would get the benefit of the doubt heading into this season despite objective reasons for teams such as USC to feel otherwise.

    Until someone steps up and breaks the conference's long streak of BCS titles, they will continue to reap the benefit of assumptions that they are a superior conference, which is apparently not only held by their rabid fans, but also a segment of coaches as well.

    But will this hurt USC on its way to what it hopes will be its own BCS title in 2012?

    No, for the reasons outlined in the next slide.

High Rankings in a Preseason Poll Means That a Team Doesn't Have to Climb Far

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    While Trojan fans may complain that their team is ranked too low, really, at this point of the season, it doesn't matter.

    At No. 3, USC really has little to worry about in terms of its placement because it has so few teams to climb over.

    If a team is ranked very low in a poll, say No. 23 or so, then it would have to not only play well itself, but also hope that those above it falter.

    This is not the case for USC, who are not only ranked very high, but also have the satisfaction of knowing that at least one of the two teams is destined to fall.

    Which leads to the next slide...

LSU and Alabama Will Have to Play Each Other

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    Trojan fans need to mark November 3 on their calendar because that is the day that Alabama visits LSU in a match of SEC titans.

    That is also the day, as long as the Trojans keep winning, that USC climbs over one (or more) of the two teams that are ranked ahead of it.

    Unless the Trojans struggle mightily and Alabama and LSU play an epic game, there is no way that USC doesn't ascend the rankings, and remember, it only needs to be in the top two when the regular season is over.

Ultimately, If the Trojans Win Out, They Will Be in the BCS Championship Game

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    When all is said and done, the Trojans themselves will dictate whether or not they play in the BCS championship game.

    If USC wins out, there is no likely scenario that keeps it from playing for all of the marbles.

    While its schedule, especially the out-of-conference matchups, is not particularly daunting, USC will have notched victories over at least five top 25 teams if it can finish the regular season unblemished.

    And although USC's OOC schedule of Hawaii, Syracuse and Notre Dame may be one of the weaker it has have played recently, at least it won't be playing cupcakes like Towson (LSU) or Western Carolina (Alabama).

    Win them all ,and USC is in "the game."

    Lose, even once, and all bets are off


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    Though it may be a bit annoying for Trojan fans to see that their team still isn't getting the respect they may feel they deserve, it is just a minor blip on the radar for USC's BCS title aspirations.

    It should also be noted that in the coaches poll, there is often residual favoritism both from coaches who represent conferences other than the Pac-12, and even within USC's conference, there are coaches who would rather stick a fork in their eye than vote for the Trojans.

    Nonetheless, preseason polls should be taken with a grain of salt, and for some, that is about all they are worth.

    For fans of the men of Troy, most don't care about where their team is ranked before the first kickoff of 2012.

    Instead, they will focus on the last game of the season and how the Trojans will do in it.