USC Football: Predicting Where the Trojans Rank in the AP Preseason Poll
Here we go again with another meaningless preseason poll, but this one is a bit different.
While the veracity of any poll conducted this early can certainly be questioned, unlike the recently offered USA Today/Coaches Poll, at least the Associated Press Poll can boast of objectivity that is borne of the notion that they are not beholden to anyone.
After excusing itself from the BCS formula process a few years ago, the AP now conducts itself independent from the Bowl Championship Series.
And in doing so, the service has found an abundance of credibility by conforming to what they believe is fair rather than the dictates of the NCAA.
Reflected in their decision to rank teams that the Coaches Poll won't (think USC in 2011), the AP rightly concedes that if a team is allowed to play, they should have right to be ranked if they are good enough.
Still, regardless of the integrity of the poll, many will argue that polls shouldn't even be conducted until the fourth or fifth game of the season and that preseason polls are worse than useless.
While that may be true, the AP is going to release its preseason poll anyway and when they do, where will USC be ranked?
This slideshow will look at this poll and offer a prediction as to where the Trojans will wind up in a far too early ranking of college football's finest.
The AP Poll Won't Be Free of SEC Bias But, Then Again, It Shouldn't Be
Look, despite protestations to the contrary, even a devout west coast college football fan has to admit that the SEC has been pretty damned special over the last few years.
With eight BCS Championships to their credit since the beginning of the series, the Southeastern Conference is far and away the most successful that the sport has to offer.
All of which means that even in the AP, a certain amount of bias will be evident.
That's because it has been earned.
Having said that, there is also a limit to that favoritism, earned or not.
And that boundary needs to be drawn at ranking both LSU and Alabama ahead of the Trojans.
One is fine, two is absurd.
The AP isn't an absurd poll.
Unlike the Coaches Poll, the AP Has Voters That Actually Pay Attention
One of the problems with the Coaches Poll is that, well, the coaches don't know who the hell they are voting for.
Any coach worth his salt knows his team and perhaps those in the conference they play in. After all, who wants or needs a coach that is spending time on teams that he will not face in the upcoming year.
So how do these coaches formulate a list of teams that are ranked in their poll?
Simple. They get help.
In fact, many of these coaches rely on others to cobble that list together and when they do, guess what? Those lists reflect not only the biases of favorite teams of those the coaches choose to do their dirty work for them, but they also compromise the integrity of the poll itself.
This is not the case with the AP writers who vote in their poll. For the most part, the writers are familiar with many of the programs in their rankings because that is what they are paid to do.
Is the AP perfect in terms of how they conduct the voting within the poll?
No, but they are a hell of a lot closer to that ideal because of the following slide...
The AP Poll Has Accountability...the Coaches Poll? Not so Much
So, unless your name is Lane Kiffin, the USA Today/Coaches poll does not release how the voters ranked teams until the final poll of the season.
Not so with the AP poll whose voters ballots are revealed every week by the service.
When a poll is conducted in secret, there is little in the way of accountability for those doing the voting, and thus ramifications for bone-headed rankings are non existent until the final week.
Meanwhile, the AP voters have to deal with the fallout of their tallies on a weekly basis.
I'll let you decide which poll has more integrity.
Most AP Writers Understand That LSU and Alabama Will Play Each Other in 2012
Beyond biases both real and imagined, there are other considerations the writers who vote in the AP poll will consider.
One of these is the fact that Alabama and LSU will be playing each other on Nov. 3.
Now, although what happens in November shouldn't have too much of a bearing in August, it can be assumed that the AP voters will understand the simple logistics of two highly ranked teams that play each other.
One likely will lose.
Because of this, look for the esteemed writers who vote in the AP to take this into consideration as they offer their preseason ranking.
If so, that will help USC in the first poll from the AP.
Returning Starters Will Carry Weight with the AP
It is generally accepted that USC is one of the three best teams in the country along with LSU and Alabama.
And while the two SEC teams are very talented, only one returns 18 starters from a squad that went 10-2 in 2011 while playing for nothing but pride.
That team, of course, is USC.
Led by the prohibitive Heisman favorite, Matt Barkley, a pair of 1,000-plus yard receivers and tailbacks along with a vastly improved back seven on defense, the Trojans are solid almost anywhere you look.
Are they perfect? No.
An inexperienced defensive line and depth issues mean that USC does have some blemishes to be considered.
But on paper, both LSU and Alabama will give AP voters more cause for pause.
Trying to crawl into the minds of those who vote in these polls is often an abject lesson in futility.
Some voters use different criteria in determining who gets their vote, others are guided by principles that only make sense to them.
Still others, especially those of the computer generated variety, manifest their picks through rigid parameters that do not assign weight to anything that isn't directed by a statistic of some sort. For them, heart and fortitude take a backseat.
Of these seemingly endless polls, there is only one that consistently seems to avoid the controversy that envelopes all others.
That poll is the AP, a service whose members at least attempt to provide integrity for by actually taking responsibility for their votes.
Where other polls conjure "helpers" to take the responsibility for voting from those who can't seem to find the time to do what they are charged with, the AP voters find accountability by revealing how they vote each and every week.
Good for them.
So how will the AP rank the USC Trojans?
No worse than second with a good chance that the Trojans will be ranked first, but really, this preseason poll doesn't mean a hill of beans.
Check back with me when the season is over....