USC No. 4 preseason football ranking comes with caution – Orange County Register

LOS ANGELES >> More people are betting on USC to win the College Football Playoff championship than any school except Alabama and Ohio State, according to the gambling site Bovada.

This makes the Trojans a favorite with the media and coaches who vote in the Top 25 polls along with the gamblers.

Recent history suggests caution when giving USC a lofty preseason ranking. The Trojans finished lower in the final Associated Press poll than they were ranked in the preseason poll in seven of the past 10 seasons.

There have been some stunning collapses like 2012, when USC was ranked No. 1 and finished unranked. Just two years ago, the Trojans were No. 8 in the preseason top 25 and did not even make the final poll.

For this year’s team — ranked No. 4 in the AP and coaches polls — there is the comfort of last season, when the Trojans were ranked No. 20 in the first poll and climbed to No. 3 in the last ranking of the season.

“For us, expectations are sky high,” USC quarterback Sam Darnold said. “But I don’t think much about pressure. Whatever pressure comes from the outside, that’s just noise.”

When you want to make the College Football Playoff and win the national title, the margin of error is so thin you cannot afford an off Saturday or lapses during key moments of games. And you cannot be overconfident.

“Sometimes if you’re ranked that high, you don’t take the opponents seriously,” tight end Cary Angeline said. “I don’t think that’s the case with us because everyone wants to beat USC. It might more pressure though.”

Maybe a good team to study was the star-studded 2005 Trojans. It had what was considered by some to be college football’s greatest offense with quarterback Matt Leinart and tailbacks Reggie Bush and LenDale White.

Even that team trailed Arizona State, 28-24, with less than six minutes remaining. It took a 34-yard touchdown run by Bush with 3:44 left and a 46-yard touchdown run by White with 2:22 left to put the game away.

Just a few weeks later against Notre Dame, the Trojans needed the famous fourth-and-9 completion from Leinart to Dwayne Jarrett and the Bush Push touchdown to barely defeat the Irish. And all that was just to get to the BCS title game.

This year’s team will have its own signature moments. How it responds will determine if the gamblers and pundits are correct. Last year, the Trojans probably could have been in the College Football Playoff if it did not lose late against Utah.

That game was…

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