USC surges past LSU in preseason AP poll

With the Honey Badger returning punts and kickoffs and wreaking havoc on defense, LSU was considered the No. 1 team in the country.

Without cornerback Tyrann Mathieu, who was kicked off the team Aug. 10 after failing multiple drug tests, LSU is only the third-best team in the country, if you believe the Associated Press Top 25 preseason college football poll, which was released on Saturday morning.

USC, which was ineligible to play in a bowl game each of the past two seasons because of NCAA sanctions, was ranked No. 1, followed by Alabama and LSU. The Trojans received 25 of 60 first-place votes; Alabama had 17 first-place votes and LSU got 16.

Oklahoma was ranked fourth, followed by No. 5 Oregon, No. 6 Georgia, No. 7 Florida State, No. 8 Michigan, No. 9 South Carolina and No. 10 Arkansas.

LSU was ranked No. 1 in the USA Today coaches' Top 25 poll, which was released earlier this month. No. 2 Alabama and No. 3 USC each actually had more first-place votes than the Tigers in that preseason poll.

USC, buoyed by the return of quarterback Matt Barkley this season, has been ranked No. 1 in the AP preseason poll six times, most recently in 2007, when it finished No. 3 in the country in the final rankings. The Trojans also were ranked No. 1 in 1963, ’73, ’79, 2004, ’05 and ’07.

It’s also the first time the Pac-12 has had two teams ranked in the top five of the preseason AP poll.

The SEC, which has won each of the past six BCS national championships, had five teams ranked in the top 10, the first time that’s happened in the 62-year history of the preseason poll. In 1959, the Big Ten had five teams ranked in the top 11.

According to ESPN Stats and Information, since 1976 only five teams that began the year No. 1 finished the year No. 1 in the AP poll. The 2004 USC team, led by quarterback Matt Leinart and tailback Reggie Bush, was the last squad to go wire-to-wire at No. 1. Of course, the Trojans later were forced to vacate that championship because of NCAA rules violations.

Each of the past five teams ranked No. 1 in the preseason didn’t finish higher than third in the final rankings: Oklahoma was No. 16 in 2011; Alabama was No. 10 in ’10; Florida was No. 3 in ’09; Georgia was No. 13 in ’08 and USC was No. 3 in ’07.