In ESPN’s third version of its 2012 Way-Too-Early Preseason Top 25 rankings released Friday, sportswriter Mark Schlabach slotted the USC Trojans at No. 2.
USC dropped from its previous spot at No. 1 because of a tougher schedule in comparison to now-No. 1 LSU.
Schlabach specifically cited USC’s tough road matchups against Stanford and Washington and home games against Oregon and Notre Dame as a factor in its drop.
Schlabach noted, however, USC’s strength behind the return of 19 starters, specifically senior quarterback Matt Barkley, who is an early favorite for the Heisman Trophy.
USC’s recruiting class, which features linebacker Jabari Ruffin and receiver Nelson Agholor, also bolstered its ranking as a top team in the nation.
Schlabach did not mention the season-ending knee injury of sophomore tailback Tre Madden on April 6. Madden had showed promise during spring practice and could have been USC’s second-string back behind senior Curtis McNeal.
One area that USC could improve, according to Schlabach, is their defensive line, especially after the departure of defensive end Nick Perry to the pros.
Despite the NCAA sanctions stemming from recruiting violations regarding former running back Reggie Bush, USC finished atop the Pac-12 south division at 10-2 last season.
The Trojans’ season was highlighted by a 38-35 road win over No. 4 Oregon and a 50-0 victory over UCLA in their season finale. USC finished the 2011-12 season ranked No. 6 in the Associated Press Top 25 Poll.
USC was unranked in the Bowl Championship Series standings because of its disqualification from bowl and conference championship games last season.
ESPN’s unofficial Way-Too-Early Preseason rankings were first released Jan. 10, a day after the LSU Tigers defeated the Alabama Crimson Tide in the BCS Championship Game.
Other Pac-12 teams in the latest edition of the rankings include Oregon at No. 4, Stanford at No. 12 and Washington at No. 21.
Of all the conferences, the Southeastern Conference has the most teams in the rankings with six, including four in the top 10.
The first AP Top-25 poll will be released shortly before the beginning of the season, while the first BCS Standings will be released after Week 8 of the season.
USC will kick off the 2012-13 season with a home matchup against Hawai’i on Sept. 1.