South Carolina 9th, Clemson 14th in preseason AP poll
Expectations are even higher for South Carolina this season.
The Gamecocks earned their highest preseason ranking in school history at No. 9 in The Associated Press’ preseason college football poll.
Defending Atlantic Coast Conference champion Clemson, which opens the season against Auburn in Atlanta on Sept. 1, is No. 14.
The Gamecocks finished last season with a school-record 11 wins and finished ranked ninth in the final AP poll, their highest finish in school history.
Southern California is No. 1 in the AP Top 25, tossing off the weight of NCAA sanctions and returning to a familiar place in the rankings — with a boost from LSU’s problems.
Southern Cal earned the top spot in the poll for the seventh time in school history and the first time in five seasons, edging out No. 2 Alabama and No. 3 LSU.
The Trojans, who were banned from postseason play the past two seasons, received 25 of a possible 60 first-place votes from a media panel in a close vote. Southern Cal received 1,445 points.
Defending national champion Alabama had 17 first-place votes and 1,411 points while LSU, the Crimson Tide’s SEC rival, got 16 first-place votes and 1,402 points.
“We definitely didn’t come here to be underdogs,” Trojans safety T.J. McDonald said Saturday. “The ranking doesn’t mean we’ve done anything as a team. But it’s good to see we’re back where we’re supposed to be.”
Oklahoma was fourth with a single first-place vote and Oregon was fifth. Michigan, at No. 8, received the only other first-place vote.
LSU was poised to start the season No. 1 before Heisman Trophy finalist Tyrann Mathieu got kicked off the team a week ago.
In light of that development, the AP extended the voting deadline. Before Mathieu was dismissed, reportedly for failed drug tests, LSU had received 28 of a possible 60 first-place votes. Southern Cal was a close second with 22 first-place votes and Alabama was third with nine.
Rounding out the top 10 in the AP rankings, Georgia was No. 6, followed by Florida State and Michigan. No. 10 Arkansas gives the Southeastern Conference half of the first 10 teams.
For the Trojans, their return to national championship contention comes just two years after the program was hit by NCAA sanctions that seemed crippling at the time.
“To be handed down what they said could be a death penalty, could take Southern Cal 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,” coach Lane Kiffin told the AP.
Kiffin was an assistant coach for Southern Cal during its last great run. From 2001-09 under coach Pete Carroll, the Trojans won two national titles and played for a third, made seven straight BCS appearances and had three Heisman Trophy winners in Carson Palmer, Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush. At one point, Southern Cal spent a record 33 straight weeks at No. 1.
But Carroll left for the NFL after the 2009 season and Kiffin was hired to replace him. A few months later the NCAA hit Southern Cal with a two-year bowl ban, plus scholarship limitations and probation because Bush and his family received impermissible benefits.
Southern Cal went 8-5 in 2010, then charged back to 10-2 last season. And when star quarterback Matt Barkley decided to stick around for his senior season instead of entering the NFL draft, the Trojans, free from the bowl ban, were set to make a run at No. 1.
The rest of the Top 25 was heavy on Big 12 and Big Ten teams.
Big 12 newcomer West Virginia was 11th, followed by Wisconsin and Michigan State.
The Big 12 also placed Texas (No. 15), Oklahoma State (No. 19), TCU (No. 20) and Kansas State (No. 22) in the rankings to give the league six teams overall, matching the SEC for the most.
No. 23 Florida is the sixth SEC squad.
The Big Ten added Nebraska (No. 17) and Ohio State (No. 18) for a total of five teams. The Buckeyes, in their first season under coach Urban Meyer, are banned for the postseason this season because of NCAA sanctions.
Virginia Tech (No. 16) gives the ACC three teams in the Top 25.
No. 21 Stanford is the third Pac-12 team in the poll.
No. 24 Boise State is ranked in the preseason for the fourth straight year and No. 25 Louisville is the only Big East school in the rankings.