Trojans start where they finished - No. 1 in the AP poll

Aug. 14, 2004

AP Sports Writer

Southern California greeted news of its first preseason No. 1 ranking since1979 with ambivalence.

'I could care less,' quarterback Matt Leinart said Saturday. 'But, youknow, it's cool because it shows how hard we've worked. That's our goal to beat the top. We're not satisfied right now. Last year was last year. And thisyear is a new season.'

The defending national champions earned the top spot in The Associated Presspoll by receiving 48 of 65 first-place votes and 1,603 points.

It's the fourth time the Trojans have been preseason No. 1. They alsostarted top-ranked in 1963 and '73, the year after their last national title.

'It really doesn't mean a thing to us,' coach Pete Carroll said. 'It'snice. It's respected. But what are we going to do with it? It's a lot of hypefrom last year and what was accomplished last year.'

Oklahoma, which was No. 1 for most of last season before losing its finaltwo games, was No. 2 with 11 first-place votes and 1,529 points in the mediapoll. Heisman Trophy winner Jason White leads the Sooners.

Georgia was No. 3, followed by fellow Southeastern Conference member anddefending co-national champion LSU at No. 4. The Bulldogs received fivefirst-place votes and the Tigers got the remaining first-place vote.

No. 5 Florida State and No. 6 Miami open the regular season against each forthe first time as Atlantic Coast Conference rivals on Sept. 6. They areseparated in the poll by just four points (1,291-1,287).

The Trojans enter the 2004 season with a nine-game winning streak.

USC went 12-1 last season and finished top-ranked in the AP poll, despitebeing left out of the Bowl Championship Series title game. LSU beat Oklahoma inthe Sugar Bowl and was voted No. 1 in the final coaches poll, as required bythe BCS.

The Trojans return only nine starters from last year's team that set Pac-10records for touchdowns (68) and points (534). But don't be fooled. USC has noshortage of speed, talent and depth.

Leinart threw for 3,556 yards and 38 touchdowns in his first season as astarter. He directs an offense lacking only in experience.

'When you have your quarterback back, that means a lot when people evaluateyou,' Carroll said. 'And obviously Matt had a great year. He had a historicalyear for the Pac-10. We'll just go out and play and see what happens.'

Tailbacks Hershel Dennis, LenDale White and Reggie Bush would be featuredrunners on most teams. For the Trojans, they share the job and form one of thedeepest backfields in college football. They combined for 1,936 yards rushingand 20 touchdowns last season.

The Trojans have only one returning starter on the line and Leinart willhave to break in a group of neophyte wideouts with star potential.

Help could be on the way at receiver. The Trojans are waiting for a rulingfrom the NCAA on the eligibility of star receiver Mike Williams. TheAll-American planned to enter the NFL draft but a court ruling kept him out. Hehas been practicing with the team.

Defensive linemen Shaun Cody, a third-team All-American, and Mike Pattersonlead a defense that ranked No. 1 in the nation in run defense (60.2 ypg).

'We have a great offense, but our defense is pretty good, too,' Cody said.'You need a whole team effort to be No. 1.'

USC will try to join Florida State in 1999 as the only wire-to-wire No. 1.

'Oh yeah we have a big target on our chest and we know that,' Leinartsaid. 'But that's not going to stop us.'

Texas was No. 7 with Big Ten rivals Michigan and Ohio State eighth andninth, respectively. No. 10 West Virginia, the heavy favorite in thereconfigured Big East, has never been ranked higher in the preseason.

No. 11 Florida is coming off a second straight 8-5 season under Ron Zook.The Gators are followed by Kansas State, California, Tennessee and Clemson.

Virginia, Auburn, Missouri, Iowa and Utah are the next five. Wisconsin,Maryland, Oregon, Purdue and Minnesota round out the Top 25.

The Big Ten leads all conferences with six teams in the preseason poll. TheSEC and ACC each have five.

As notable as which teams made the rankings is a group of teams that didn't.

Notre Dame and Penn State, both coming off losing seasons, and Nebraska willall be unranked to start the season. The Cornhuskers went 10-3 last season andfinished 19th in the final rankings but changed coaches - and offenses -replacing Frank Solich and the option with Bill Callahan and the West Coastoffense.

The last time the Fighting Irish, Nittany Lions and Cornhuskers all failedto make the preseason poll was 1964, when only the top 10 teams were ranked.