If there was any doubt the 2012 college football season is upon us, let it be laid to rest. The first installment of the Associated Press Top 25 has been released. While the AP’s version is very similar to the earlier released USA Today Coaches’ Poll, there are several points of observation that should be interesting to Pac-12 fans. Below are my observations of the preseason AP poll and what it means for programs from LA to Seattle.
The Trojans control their destiny
Unlike the coaches’ version, the AP has put USC smack-dab atop the nation. In the USA Today version, Troy is ranked third in the nation behind two SEC schools, LSU (1), and Alabama (2). The AP has the Trojans as the clear number one with 25 first place votes eight more than second ranked ‘Bama with 17. Another aspect of the small jump by Lane Kiffin’s squad to take note of, is the falling stock of the Bayou Bengals. The suspension of Tyrann Mathieu has likely put a small dent in the armor that is LSU. Matt Barkley and company now know that an undefeated season will land them in the BCS National Championship game.
Voters see the Ducks as Mighty
Ok, if you can forgive The Mighty Ducks reference for a moment, let me at least explain why the college football version is more than the loveable pee-wee hocky squad coached by Emilio Estevez. Both the coaches and AP have given Oregon a five preseason ranking. Considering Chip Kelly’s squad is replacing star quarterback Darron Thomas and touchdown machine LaMichael James, a top five showing is nothing short of impressive. The respect is well deserved, as the Ducks have three consecutive BCS bowl appearances, four consecutive seasons of at least ten wins, and two seasons in a row with at least 12 wins. It doesn’t hurt that Oregon has no major non-conference road blocks either.
Don’t sleep on Stanford
The post-Luck era has begun in the Bay Area. Andrew Luck is a Colt isn’t walking through that door. Stanford’s success under the NFL’s number one draft pick was obvious. Double digit win seasons in 2010 and 2011, with BCS bowl appearances in each, have marked the turnaround for the Cardinal. Head coach David Shaw must replace a legend with an unknown. It’s a three quarterback race for the coveted role of the Stanford signal-caller. A punishing defense and solid running game led by Stepfan Taylor have earned a 21 ranking in the AP. Depending on the success (or lack thereof) of the new QB, Stanford can go either way.
The Pac-12 is Top-Heavy
Barring a 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team miracle, the Pac-12 has two legitimate title contenders in USC and Oregon. Stanford is a long-shot to reach Miami, and any other Pac-12 team must climb their way into the rankings. Washington and Utah once again made the “others receiving votes” category. The Huskies have 55 points and the Utes have 30 in the preseason AP rankings. Both programs are on the cusp of making some noise nationally. UW could shake up the landscape with an upset in Baton Rouge September 8. The Utes might sabotage the Trojans year with a home win October 4.
A legitimate fear for fans of programs on the West Coast is an underwhelming 2012 performance by both USC and Oregon. That scenario would likely leave the Pac-12 on the outside looking in at a possible championship. What should put a shiver in the britches of fans for the rest of the country, is if the Pac-12 fails to challenge for a title, the SEC is once again primed finish atop the college football mountain.
James Gomez is a Pac-12 and Mountain West columnist for Rant Sports and member of the Football Writers Association of America
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