Chris Dufresne's preseason top 25: No. 4 USC

The Times' Chris Dufresne unveils his preseason college football top 25, one day (and team) at a time.

No. 4 USC

Someone touched a nerve in Trojan Land by suggesting ever so gently that it might be "risky" sending a fresh-from-Mater Dei High freshman quarterback to face Ohio State on Sept. 12 in front of more than 100,000 fans at Ohio Stadium.

The backlash was harsh and yours truly was reminded of that song from the way-off Broadway musical "Rankman of La Mancha."

What kind of chump am I?

Apparently, Barkley at "The Shoe" is going to be as easy as one, two, tie your shoe.

Rankman was inundated with statistical analysis regarding Matt Barkley's spiffy fall-camp interception-to-pass-attempt ratio as compared with fall-camp interception rates of past USC quarterbacks. Nowhere did the analysis mention quarterbacks being off-limits to blindside hits by blitzing linebackers.

The kind folks at USC even invited Rankman out to witness practices at which quarterbacks aren't allowed to get blindsided by linebackers.

Lead counsel Allen Iverson advised against attending, exclaiming, "Practice?"

Rankman, when he toiled in the pro game with the Rams, once covered the greatest Wednesday-afternoon quarterback of all time: Dieter Brock.

Asked last week whether Florida's Tim Tebow could be a successful quarterback in the NFL, Hall of Fame member Steve Young said the key was throwing on the run, under regular-season pressure, when Al Michaels was announcing.

"Accuracy in Motion," Young said, "Not Accuracy in Practice."

So, an e-mailer over the weekend wondered if doubts about starting a kid quarterback would influence this year's countdown ranking of USC.

Answer: Here you are, the Trojans, at No. 4.

USC has so much returning talent on offense that the quarterback in most games is not going to matter. Injuries to receiver Ronald Johnson and center Kristofer O'Dowd are certainly blows, but the Trojans are still going to win 10, 11 or 12 games. Rankman considers USC one of four teams that can win this year's championship at the Rose Bowl -- the others to be unveiled later this week.

USC has won two national titles and is 88-15 in eight seasons under Coach Pete Carroll. Three or four of those loses, however, may have directly cost USC three or four more national titles.

The margin of error in the BCS is razor-thin, so one bad throw by a freshman, or a split-second coaching decision, can cost you everything. Leaving John David Booty in the Stanford defeat of '07 with a broken finger is a mistake Carroll has acknowledged, and it ultimately cost the Trojans a trip to the BCS title game to face Ohio State, a team it beat 35-3 last year.

Everything with USC is flip-flopped this season. Last season, an all-time great defense was the team's strength; this season the offense could be paralyzingly potent.

The offensive line is veteran, the receivers are experienced and talented, the tailbacks are stacked five (six?) deep, and the quarterback -- Barkley, Aaron Corp, other (Mitch Mustain?) -- only has to keep from royally messing everything up.

Having this kind of support group surrounding the quarterback position is a reason Carroll and first-year quarterbacks coach Jeremy Bates can feel relatively comfortable with Barkley's inexperience factor.

This isn't the NFL, though, where 8-8 wins the AFC West and a playoff spot for the San Diego Chargers.

This is the BCS, where one slip on a banana peel leaves you praying for a split (title). USC found that out in 2003 at California, a team that six years later thinks it's ready to do it again.

The countdown so far: 25. UCLA; 24. Nevada; 23. Notre Dame; 22. Oregon State; 21. Florida State; 20. Nebraska; 19. North Carolina; 18. Utah; 17. Georgia Tech; 16. California; 15. Virginia Tech; 14. Alabama; 13. Georgia; 12. Boise State; 11. Texas Christian; 10. Mississippi; 9. Louisiana State; 8. Ohio State; 7. Oklahoma State; 6. Oregon; No. 5 Penn State; No. 4 USC.


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