WHAT I THINK: I MIGHT NOT RANK THE TROJANS NO. 1
This is the time of year when C&F takes little responsibility for his predictions, particularly not the ones he doesn't commit to print with the words "I predict..." or some similar phrase in front of them. That is because, in an effort to think outside the box, C&F is given to saying things like "I might just rank Auburn and Oregon State as No. 1 and No. 2," which, of course, he has no intention of doing.
C&F's preseason coach of the year pick?
That said, C&F will inaugurate his newest feature, "What I Think," with (for those of you with a knack for missing the obvious) something I think: I just might not put Southern Cal at No. 1 on my preseason rankings.
(Gasp) Say what?
Part of this is C&F's contrarian streak, which served him well last year when he put Florida at No. 2 on his list. (We won't talk about the whole Notre-Dame-as-No. 1 thing, k?) Part of it is C&F's admitted disgust at another season of "IS THIS TROJAN TEAM THE BEST GROUP OF 85+ PLAYERS EVER IN ANY SPORT EVER???" on ESPN. And part of it is an uneasiness C&F will describe in a moment.
How deep would this heresy go?
It would go against all four preview mags -- even Phil Steele! -- and against EDSBS' pronouncement that "anyone with half a tank of rationality will pick them at number one." Sporting News issues a challenge to SC haters -- "Go ahead, try to find a flaw with college football's 10,000 pound gorilla" -- before adding, "Oh, you can pick a few nits here and there -- mainly the lack of go-to receivers -- but there's nothing standing between the Trojans and a date with their third BCS title game in the last four years."
C&F can understand the hype. After all, there are the memories of the Rose Bowl, during which SC proved its superiority to the once-touted Michigan and the postseason genius that is Lloyd Carr.
I'm supposed to win this game, too? I didn't sign up for this crap!
But C&F can't help but think that Michigan -- and particularly a secondary that was shredded by Ohio State even before the Rose Bowl -- was a bit overrated going into the GAME OF THE YEAR/DECADE/CENTURY/MILLENIUM!!!11! after dancing through a Big Ten that at times resembled the Publix bakery.
Now, C&F can't believe that TSN would voice even a bit of doubt about Patrick Turner and Vidal Hazleton, those ... overlooked ... WR threats. Nor would he dare to knock the other USC for its lack of a returning starter at center and left guard alone. But when you put the two together, it could be a rough year for JDB, especially for the first few games. Though, as Les Miles would point out, SC begins the season with Idaho at home and a road trip to Nebraska before playing Washington State at home and going to Washington.
But the Trojans' two losses last year -- at Oregon State and UCLA -- trouble C&F. Both of those games were the kind of near-catastrophes that SC would routinely win anyway in the days of Leinart, Bush and White. Unless, of course, they were playing Texas. Did the Trojans lose the killer instinct along with the "dynasty"-building trio? Or did the former new clock rules just throw off Pete Carroll's internal win-it-now clock?
C&F doesn't know. And this is why he "thinks" he "might not" put SC first on his preseason rankings.
He could easily give up in the end and put the Trojans No. 1 anyway. But if he does so, it will be with a measure of discomfort and lingering doubt.