- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 21, 2005

Here’s why Southern California is No.1 in the Associated Press preseason poll:

Every player who scored a touchdown in the Trojans’ 55-19 victory over Oklahoma in last season’s Orange Bowl is still playing for USC. And so is Heisman Trophy winner Matt Leinart, who threw five touchdown passes.

Leinart, Reggie Bush and the rest of Pete Carroll’s crew provided a scary glimpse of what was to come in 2005 when they wrapped up their second straight national title in January.

This year’s goal is three in a row, something that’s never been done.

“It’s always good to be on top, but at the same time we’re focused and coach Carroll always reminds us, ‘Don’t worry about who’s No.1 or No.2. Just stay focused,’” said sophomore receiver Dwayne Jarrett, who finished off a big freshman year with 115 yards and a touchdown in the Orange Bowl.

USC (1,619 points) received 60 of 65 first-place votes in the media poll released yesterday, grabbing the top spot in the preseason for the fifth time in school history.

“My statement on that is what I always say: It’s a reflection of what’s happened in the past and the respect that people show our program, so in that sense it’s a really nice recognition,” Carroll said, “but it doesn’t amount to much until we do something about it and prove that we’re worthy of that. And it’s a long ways before that.”

No. 2 Texas (1,500 points), coming off an 11-1 season and a Rose Bowl win, got four first-place votes. Tennessee is No.3 and Michigan and LSU round out the top five. No.12 Louisville received the other first-place vote.

Joe Giglio of the News & Observer of Raleigh, N.C., voted Louisville No.1 after examining the schedules for all BCS conference teams. The Cardinals moved to the Big East this season.

“Louisville was the only one that I came up with as going undefeated,” he said.

Ohio State is No.6, one point ahead of Oklahoma and star tailback Adrian Peterson. The Sooners have lost the last two Bowl Championship Series title games, and have to replace 11 NFL draft picks and 2003 Heisman winner Jason White this season.

Defending ACC champion Virginia Tech is No.8. The Hokies have a new Vick at quarterback, Mike’s little brother, Marcus.

Miami is No.9 and No.10 Florida, with new coach Urban Meyer, gives the SEC three teams in the top 10.

“It says we have a lot of experience. We have a returning quarterback and some returning players on defense. It doesn’t say anything about the coaches,” said Meyer, who guided Utah to an undefeated record last season.

USC’s AP championship repeat was the 10th, and first since Nebraska did it in 1994-95.

The Cornhuskers were preseason No.1 in 1996, but lost 19-0 at Arizona State in their second game of the season to snap a 26-game winning streak. Nebraska finished the season 11-2.

“The odds are always against you no matter what your previous history is,” former Nebraska coach Tom Osborne said recently. “You have to overcome the tendency to relax.”

USC has won 22 straight games and has one huge advantage over that 1996 Nebraska team: Leinart is a three-year starter at quarterback.

“When you get your quarterback back, now that’s a big deal,” Osborne said. “USC, because of that factor, if you had to pick a team, they’d be the favorite.”

Many figured Leinart’s college career was over after his record-breaking Orange Bowl. He stood a good chance at being the first pick in the NFL Draft, but instead decided to return for his senior year and a shot at a second Heisman. Ohio State running back Archie Griffin is the only two-time Heisman winner.

B.G. Brooks of the Rocky Mountain News of Denver was one of four voters to put Texas No.1.

“I thought USC had lost too much, particularly in the coaching staff,” he said.

The Trojans have only five returning starters on defense and had to replace four assistants, including offensive coordinator Norm Chow.

USC now has been ranked No.1 in 19 straight AP polls, the second-best streak since the preseason rankings started in 1950.

“We like it because it makes us push and work harder every day just to stay on top,” Jarrett said. “Being No.1 is just going to make us push each other and compete at the highest level out here and just work as a team. ”

Miami’s 21-week run at No.1 during its 34-game winning streak a few years ago is the longest consecutive stay atop the AP rankings.

USC has been No.1 since the final regular-season poll of the 2003 season, when the Trojans won the AP title but were left out of the BCS title game for LSU and Oklahoma.

Last season, the Trojans were the second team to be a wire-to-wire No.1, joining the 1999 Florida State team. And they didn’t have to share the national crown.

No. 11 Iowa starts the second 10, followed by Louisville, Georgia, Florida State and Purdue.

Auburn, which finished last season 13-0 and No.2 in the country after being left out of the BCS title game, is No.16. The Tigers must replace three first-round draft picks from their backfield alone in running backs Carnell Williams and Ronnie Brown and quarterback Jason Campbell.

No. 17 is Texas A&M;, Boise State is ranked 18th, California is 19th and Arizona State is No.20.

The final five are Texas Tech, Boston College, Pittsburgh, Fresno State and Virginia.

Missing from the poll is Utah, last year’s BCS buster from the Mountain West Conference.

The Utes went 12-0 and finished fourth in the final AP rankings. But Utah lost Meyer to the Gators and quarterback Alex Smith left after his junior year to become the first overall pick in the NFL Draft by the San Francisco 49ers.

The last team to finish that high and go unranked in the following preseason poll was Arizona State, which was No.4 to end the 1996 season.

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