USC Football: 5 Reasons the Trojans Deserve the No. 1 Preseason Ranking
The USC Trojans, now out of the NCAA's doghouse, are more hungry and ready for a championship than ever before.
This is truly a special season for USC football. With the Heisman favorite, a new running back, the best receiving corps in the nation and an ultra-talented defense, the Trojans are set to dominate. After two years of postseason ineligibility, this is USC's year.
The voters don't think so. The Trojans are behind LSU and Alabama. While No. 3 is nothing to sulk about, it feels like a slap in the face to Trojans fans and players alike after everything the school has been through over the last several years.
Here's why the the voters got it wrong and the USC Trojans deserve the nation's top ranking.
Even putting the Trojans at No. 3 in the country, the voters have clearly underestimated improvements in the USC defense.
Last season, the Trojans showed defensive youth and immaturity. However, the defense enters this season as vastly improved. More specifically, the has defense matured. This maturity will serve as one of USC's greatest and most reliable assets.
Even as a junior, safety TJ McDonald was ironically the team's most immature player on the field. He delivered several momentum-stopping late hits in a loss against Arizona State. He was also flagged and suspended for half a game following a personal foul against Stanford. The penalty may have cost USC the game.
The talent has always been there for McDonald, but this year he has the maturity to use it. McDonald is now the team's leader and anchor on defense. It's also safe to presume Kiffin and company have worked on his tackling fundamentals, meaning late hits should be a non-factor this season.
The Trojans also started two true freshmen at linebacker in 2011 and sometimes had three on the field at the same time. The freshmen made mistakes and were still getting the feel of defending college offenses.
Dion Bailey, Lamar Dawson and Hayes Pullard, the Trojans starting linebackers, are all sophomores now. The extra year of experience is important and will make the Trojans' running and passing defense much, much better.
Finally, star cornerback Nickell Robey is now a junior. Have fun with that, Pac-12 wide receivers.
USC may not be 'Bama or LSU on defense, but will undoubtedly make opposing offenses miserable thanks huge strides in the maturity department.
If the Trojans were shallow at any one position on the field, it was unquestionably at running back. Not anymore, thanks to RB Silas Redd, the newest USC Trojan.
Since last season, Marc Tyler graduated, George Farmer switched back to WR, and Amir Carlisle transferred to Notre Dame.
This left Curtis McNeal as the team's only reliable ball-carrier. The 5'7" McNeal, a 1,000-yard rusher, is good but not good enough or durable enough to carry the entire load by himself.
As a result of the Sandusky-Paterno debacle, former Penn State star Redd is now a Trojan. This move single-handedly transferred USC's biggest weakness into one of its greatest strengths.
Moreover, Redd, who was All-Big Ten and a 1,200-yard rusher, brings much more to the table than just a top-shelf running attack.
Opposing defenses are now unable to focus on defending the pass. Opponents are certainly welcome to try, but Redd and McNeal will run them all over the field. This new running attack will make life much easier on Matt Barkley, meaning the Redd addition has made the USC defense better in numerous facets.
Furthermore, AP voters cast their votes before Redd transferred to USC. This means the Trojans may jump to No. 1 when the next poll comes out because this offense is now too good to rank anywhere else.
Despite the fact that LSU and Alabama are returning very few starters, voters have given them the benefit of the doubt and awarded them the top two spots.
Surely, LSU and 'Bama boast stellar recruiting classes. However, it's unreasonable for the voters to presume their defenses will be as good as last year's. Alabama returns only 11 starters and an abysmal four on defense. LSU returns 12 starters, only five of which play defense.
Meanwhile, the Trojans return a whopping 17 players—nine on offense and eight in defense. Led by returning stars Matt Barkley, Curtis McNeal, Robert Woods, Marqise Lee, TJ McDonald and Nickell Robey, among others, the Trojans bring back proven and talented depth while the competition does not.
Expectations are simply too high for the inexperienced LSU and Alabama defenses, while the Trojans return a proven and ultra-talented roster. This certainty warrants the top spot.
Hidden Offensive Stars
Voters are expecting the Trojans offense to be great this year. This is a gross underestimation.
By now, college football fans nationwide have heard about Matt Barkley, Robert Woods, Marqise Lee, Silas Redd and maybe a few others.
However, the Trojans are especially dangerous this season because USC boasts a low-key group of ultra-talented players ready to break through.
George Farmer leads this effort. As USC's third option at WR, defenses are inevitably going to pay little attention to him. With Lee and Woods expected to draw all the double coverage, they'll have no choice.
Farmer, a speedster, was once the No. 3 overall recruit and No. 1 WR in the class of 2011, according to Rivals.com. In fact, he may very well be the fastest player on the entire team.
Expect Farmer to run slants and go deep this season, a lot. With Lee and Woods attracting defenders, Matt Barkley throwing picture-perfect deep balls, and the amount of offseason work Farmer has put in, he is going to find the end zone.
The Trojans also have two dynamic and insanely talented tight ends in Randall Telfer and Xavier Grimble. Both are at least 6'4" and 255 lbs, and the two likely make up the best duo in the Pac-12. Expect Telfer and Grimble to excel in the red zone this season.
Finally, the team boasts one of the best freshmen classes in the nation and could see production out of its 4- and 5-star recruits.
All this said, voters are simply underestimating the Trojans' offense this year. The offense aspires not to be good, great, or even the best in the country.
This is an offense prepared for legendary status.
So, we've talked about an improved defense, a new running attack, returning stars and a plethora of under-the-radar talent. Is there anything we're missing?
Oh right. The Trojans have the best quarterback and arguably the best player in the entire nation in Matt Barkley.
There's not all that much to prove about Barkley, who comes in as the nation's Heisman favorite. He completed almost 70 percent of his passes last season, pulled off a stunning 39 TDs to seven interceptions and is one of the greatest leaders in Trojans history
What's scary about Barkley is that these numbers are going to improve. The team believes in him now more than ever and most importantly, Barkley and the Trojans offense is good enough to score points in bunches—even against LSU and Alabama.
Can we say the opposite is true? Can the top SEC teams outscore the Trojans?
Alabama brings back junior quarterback AJ McCarron who was decently impressive last season, but lost RB Trent Richardson to the NFL. The top-ranked LSU Tigers, on the other hand, will start junior Zach Mettenberger, who has thrown 11 career passes.
I'll take Barkley even against the toughest SEC defenses, and once the season starts, the voters will begin to agree.
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