Breaking Down USC Trojans' Ranking in the AP Preseason College Football Poll

Rick McMahanSenior Writer IAugust 19, 2012

Breaking Down USC Trojans' Ranking in the AP Preseason College Football Poll

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    The Associated Press finally released its college football poll and to some people's surprise, the USC Trojans are ranked No. 1.

    The Trojans, who return 18 starters to a team that finished 10-2 last year, received 25 first-place votes to edge out No. 2 Alabama.

    For those who follow college football, preseason rankings don't mean a lot unless the team you follow is buried down the list, thus forcing a more difficult climb to attain BCS bowl consideration.

    Because of this, many feel that no poll should be released until four or five games into the season.

    Nonetheless, preseason polls exist, and in the case of the AP, it does offer a glimpse into the regard that national writers have for teams entering the 2012 season.

    This slideshow will look at the AP poll and discuss the relative merits of both the service itself and how they went about determining that USC is the best team entering into what should be a very exciting season.

    Is this poll a far-too-early look at the major programs in college football, and is it unfair for some teams that are placed too low?

    Perhaps, but it is still a couple of weeks until the start of the season and we do need things to occupy our time...

Say What You Will About Preseason Polls, at Least the AP Tried to Get It Right

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    A couple of weeks or so ago, the USA Today coaches' poll was released and USC was ranked third for the upcoming 2012 season.

    Many, including myself, took umbrage at the rankings and among other things, pointed out that the poll has a lot of issues that compromise its integrity, including the fact that many of the coaches charged with providing the votes instead have surrogates submitting those lists.

    But this isn't about that dubious poll and its myriad of issues.

    No, this is about the AP, and to its credit, it tries to do things right.

    A good example of this is the fact that the service delayed releasing its rankings because of important news that LSU's Tyrann Mathieu had been kicked out of their program.

    Not a minor inconvenience, the AP felt that giving its voters more time to evaluate the situation would provide for integrity in the initial rankings.

    And they were right, as evidenced by the next slide.

Do the Voters in the AP Take Their Responsibility Seriously? Yes.

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    So, it doesn't matter how much extra time the AP gave its voters if those doing the voting aren't taking their responsibilities seriously.

    Unlike the aforementioned USA Today coaches' poll, whose members sometimes don't even take the time to fill out their own ballots, the writers in the AP not only submit their own tallies, but they pay attention to the goings on in the sport.

    How do we know this? Simple.

    According to an article by Sports Illustrated, prior to the dismissal of LSU's Mathieu, the writers who vote in the AP had the Tigers on top with 28 first-place votes.

    After the news of Mathieu's departure, the delayed tally now has them third with the Trojans on top.

    While it can be argued whether or not the "Honey Badger" is good enough to have swayed so many voters, what can't be argued is that right or wrong, the voters in the AP are paying attention and taking their duties seriously.

USC Will Face Five Opponents Ranked in the AP Top 30 in 2012

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    Much is made of the vaunted SEC and the schedule those teams play year in and out, but according to the AP poll, USC sports a pretty tough schedule too.

    In addition to Oregon (No. 5) and Stanford (No. 21), USC also plays Notre Dame (No. 26), Washington (No. 27) and Utah (No. 30).

    And although the SEC has seven teams ranked in the Top 25, it should be noted that not every team plays each other and their out-of-conference schedule is notoriously weak (save a couple of "anomaly" games).

    Let the SEC have its reputation, well-earned, as the nation's toughest conference.

    USC has nothing to be ashamed of in terms of their schedule either.

On the Other Hand, the AP May Not Be Doing USC a Favor by Making Them No. 1

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    It's not easy making it to the top of the mountain.

    It's even tougher staying there.

    While the respect given to the Trojans by naming them No. 1 is appreciated by their fans, it should be understood that maintaining that lofty status will take a lot of work.

    From this point forward, it won't be good enough for the Trojans just to win. Now they have to do it with style.

    If USC wins but doesn't do it impressively, they will find themselves dropped behind any team that is close behind and kicking butt.

    The powers that be in these polls say that "margin of win" no longer enters into the equation.

    To which I say:

    Bull-pucky.

Still, Being Ranked No. 1 by the AP Shows How Far the Program Has Come

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    After two years of NCAA sanctions which stripped the Trojans of any opportunity to go to a bowl game, the pleasure for those inside USC's football program must be enormous after being named No. 1 in the AP poll.

    In fact, Trojan head coach Lane Kiffin, in an uncharacteristic nod to that satisfaction, said the following to the AP, according to an article at Boston.com:

    "To be handed down what they said could be a death penalty, could take USC 10 years to come back from, then to have this recognition and be preseason No. 1 is very exciting for our fans because a lot people thought two years ago that this would not be possible for USC."

    Typically very reserved, that admission by Kiffin is a sign that USC has returned to prominence, even in the young coach's mind.

    That respect also was not lost on Trojan quarterback Matt Barkley, who had this to say to Scout.com's Lindsey Thiry, "I think it’s cool for our school, I really do. For our fan base and the people who have stuck with us and who endured the sanctions with us, it’s a cool thing for our program, for our team.”

    Now the trick is for the Trojans to hold on to that lofty station.

Conclusion

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    When all is said and done, the AP poll, like all other preseason rankings, really doesn't mean too much in the grand scheme of things.

    While it is nice for a program that has suffered through recent hard times such as USC to garner the respect that comes with a No. 1 ranking, it has little impact in August.

    What does have meaning, however, is the fact that two Pac-12 programs, USC and Oregon, rank in the Top Five. That is exactly how many the esteemed SEC has as well.

    It is also important for the fans of USC to understand that if the Trojans had a choice as to which irrelevant poll to sit on top of—the USA Today coaches' poll or the AP poll—USC made it to the top of the one that has the respect of most of those who follow the game.

    Still, these polls mean little at this time, and the only poll that fans of the men of Troy will care about will come months down the road.

    At the end of the season.