USC’s reward: Top spot in Top 25

Published 9:40 pm Tuesday, September 2, 2008

NEW YORK – By staying away from the cupcakes, Southern California earned itself a slim new ranking.

No. 1 always seems to fit USC.

Southern California jumped two spots to No. 1 in The Associated Press Top 25 on Tuesday, rewarded by voters for opening the season with a dominant performance on the road against a BCS conference opponent.

Georgia and Ohio State, the preseason Nos. 1 and 2, respectively, started their seasons with glorified scrimmages at home against FCS (formerly I-AA) teams. USC, however, traveled across country to face Virginia 1 and could not have been more impressive in a 52-7 victory.

Georgia fell to No. 2 and Ohio State to No 3.

“We realize that rankings so early in a season are certainly fluid. But rankings do help establish a pecking order for things later in the season,” USC coach Pete Carroll said in a statement. “As for moving into the No. 1 spot, it’s nice to know that people think highly of our team.”

Since reaching No. 1 on Dec. 7, 2003, the final-regular season AP poll of that season, USC has been No. 1 in 39 polls, by far the most of any team during that time.

“Some have said the voters are taking our schedule into consideration,” Carroll said. “Our philosophy has always been to schedule outstanding opponents. We need to play challenging games like we just did, traveling across the country to open the season at Virginia. Games like that bring out our best and make us stronger as a team.”

The latest voting was close. USC received 21 first-place votes and 1,539 points from the 65-member media panel. Georgia had 20 first-place votes and 1,506 points. Ohio State got 15 first-place votes and 1,497 points.

“I’d say we’ve evolved as pollsters,” said Stewart Mandel of, who moved USC up to No. 1. “In the past, voters just kind of automatically moved teams up and kept teams where they were if they won.”

Georgia beat Georgia Southern 45-21 on Saturday and Ohio State opened with a 43-0 win over Youngstown State.

“There’s a bit of a growing backlash for the amount of teams that open with I-AA cupcakes,” said Mandel, whose book “Bowl, Polls and Tattered Souls” chronicles college football’s controversies. “To see a team (USC) go on the road and play a New Year’s Day bowl team from last season, and not only play them but destroy them, how could you not reward that team?”

USC also jumped past Georgia to No. 1 in the USA Today coaches’ poll, which has the same top five as the AP poll.

“It’s definitely a privilege to be No. 1. But it’s not heartbreaking to me if we drop,” Georgia offensive lineman Chris Davis said. “It doesn’t matter right now what we’re ranked. What matters is our next game and right now, that’s Central Michigan. The only time the polls matter is in December. That’s when the polls matter.”

While the Bulldogs’ opened easy, their schedule ultimately should be as difficult as any team’s. Georgia’s big nonconference test is at No. 15 Arizona State on Sept. 20. The Bulldogs also face six Southeastern Conference rivals that’ve been ranked in the first two polls.

As for Ohio State, the Buckeyes play at USC on Sept. 13 before getting into the Big Ten schedule.

But of the teams in this week’s top 10, USC and Texas are the only ones that don’t play an FCS opponent, and the Trojans are the only team that doesn’t play a team from a non-BCS conference.

The last team to drop from No. 1 after a victory was USC last season. LSU jumped from No. 2 to No. 1 when it beat Tulane 34-9, the same week the Trojans edged Washington on the road, 27-24.

The last preseason No. 1 team to lose the top spot after winning its opening game was Florida in 2001. The Gators beat Marshall 49-14, but preseason No. 2 Miami opened with a 33-7 victory over Penn State and the Hurricanes jumped to No. 1 with Florida slipping to second.

The next four teams in the new Top 25 stayed the same: No. 4 Oklahoma (two first-place votes), No. 5 Florida (five first-place votes), No. 6 Missouri (one first-place votes), No. 7 LSU (one first-place votes) and No. 8 West Virginia.

No. 9 Auburn and No. 10 Texas each moved up a spot, taking advantage of Clemson’s big drop. Clemson, ninth in the preseason, fell out after losing 34-10 to Alabama on Saturday.

Also falling out after losses were Virginia Tech, Pittsburgh and Tennessee.

Moving into the rankings were No. 21 Fresno State, No. 22 Utah, No. 23 UCLA and No. 24 South Carolina.

Alabama moved up 11 spots after its big victory over Clemson.

The second 10 started with No. 11 Wisconsin, followed by Texas Tech, Alabama, Kansas and BYU and Arizona State were tied for 15th. Rivals BYU and Utah are both ranked for the first time since 1996.

South Florida was No. 17, ahead of Oregon, Penn State, and Wake Forest at No. 20.

The final five were all the teams to move into the ranking, except for Illinois, which dropped four spots and tied South Carolina for No. 24.