The SEC has five teams in the top 10 of the Associated Press preseason college football poll -– but not the No. 1 team.
USC, entering its third season under coach Lane Kiffin and its first back from an NCAA-imposed two-year postseason ban, got the top ranking in the media vote released Saturday.
Alabama and LSU, the SEC teams that met in last season’s BCS title game, were ranked Nos. 2 and 3, respectively. Other SEC teams in the top 10 were No. 6 Georgia, No. 9 South Carolina and No. 10 Arkansas. Georgia’s ranking is the highest for the Bulldogs since September 2008.
Georgia Tech received poll votes but was not ranked in the top 25.
LSU’s dismissal of star cornerback/punt returner Tyrann Mathieu from the team on Aug. 10 –- reportedly for failed drug tests -– enabled USC to move to the top of the poll. Because of Mathieu’s impact, the AP extended the voting deadline and allowed voters to amend their ballots.
Before Mathieu was kicked off the team, LSU had received 28 first-place votes, USC 22 and Alabama nine, AP reported. But in the poll released Saturday, USC had 25 first-place votes, Alabama 17 and LSU 16.
One AP voter who changed his ballot was Seth Emerson of The Macon Telegraph. Emerson said Saturday that he originally had LSU No. 1 but dropped the Tigers to No. 3, putting Alabama No. 1 and USC No. 2.
“I was in the Georgia Dome,” Emerson said, pointing to Mathieu’s two long punt returns in last season’s SEC Championship game victory over Georgia. “I saw the effect that had.
“Even without Mathieu,” Emerson added, “there is a clear separation between the top three teams and the rest.”
LSU was ranked No. 1 in the USA Today coaches’ preseason poll, which was announced before Mathieu’s dismissal. Alabama was No. 2 and USC No. 3 in that poll.
In the AP poll, USC totaled 1,445 points, Alabama 1,411 and LSU 1,402. Oklahoma and Oregon completed the top five, in that order. Oklahoma and No. 8 Michigan received one first-place vote apiece.
The AP poll, unlike the coaches’, is not part of the BCS formula that determines who plays in the national title game.
Georgia’s No. 6 ranking was the same in both polls.
“I would’ve predicted us not to be quite as high in [the AP] poll, but it’s good that people feel that way about us,” coach Mark Richt said Saturday. “We all know it doesn’t mean a lot other than you’re starting in a spot where, if you take care of business, you have a chance to stay up there. . . . We know we’ve got a long way to go and a lot to prove.
“… We want to be well thought of,” Richt added. “Have we earned it this year? No. But I guess from everybody’s evaluation of who’s returning and all that type of thing they feel like we’ve got a chance.”
Said UGA tailback-fullback Richard Samuel: “We don’t feel any pressure from [the high ranking]. In the long run, [the coaches' poll] helps us at the end of the season when it comes time to decide who gets to go to the national championship. So we just look at it like that, but we also know that we’ve got to take it game by game to get there. … I really do believe in our guys. We have a really wonderful, amazing team. We had some victories last year and a couple of games we have to learn how to finish.”
Georgia Tech was sixth in the others-receiving-votes category.
Asked if he would use being unranked as motivation, Tech coach Paul Johnson said: “No. Probably won’t talk about it.”
Said Tech center Jay Finch: “I think that’s right where we should be, because, to be honest, I like starting outside where nobody’s suspecting anything. But if you keep winning, you keep going up.”
In all, the SEC placed six teams in the AP’s top 25 –- the five in the top 10 plus Florida, which was ranked No. 23 despite a 7-6 (3-5 SEC) record last season.
The Big 12 also put six teams in the top 25 but only one in the top 10. The Big Ten had five teams ranked, one in the top 10. The Pac-12 and ACC had three teams apiece in the poll — two and one, respectively, in the top 10.
The ranked ACC teams included No. 7 Florida State, No. 14 Clemson (which opens the season against Auburn in a Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game at the Georgia Dome on Sept. 1) and No. 16 Virginia Tech.
– Tim Tucker of the AJC, with contributions from Chip Towers at Georgia and Ken Sugiura at Georgia Tech.
ASSOCIATED PRESS POLL
Team(first place votes) 2011 record Points Pv
1.Southern Cal(25) 10-2 1,445 6
2.Alabama(17) 12-1 1,411 1
3. LSU (16) 13-1 1,402 2
4.Oklahoma(1) 10-3 1,286 16
5.Oregon 12-2 1,274 4
6.Georgia 10-4 1,107 19
7. Florida St. 9-4 1,093 23
8.Michigan(1) 11-2 1,000 12
9.South Carolina 11-2 994 9
10.Arkansas 11-2 963 5
11.West Virginia 10-3 856 17
12.Wisconsin 11-3 838 10
13. Michigan St. 11-3 742 11
14. Clemson 10-4 615 22
15.Texas 8-5 569 NR
16. Virginia Tech 11-3 548 21
17.Nebraska 9-4 485 24
18. Ohio St. 6-7 474 NR
19. Oklahoma St. 12-1 430 3
20. TCU 11-2 397 14
21. Stanford 11-2 383 7
22. Kansas St. 10-3 300 15
23.Florida 7-6 214 NR
24. Boise St. 12-1 212 8
25.Louisville 7-6 105 NR
Others receiving votes: Notre Dame 83, Washington 55, Auburn 53, North Carolina 32, Utah 30, Georgia Tech 25, BYU 22, Tennessee 15, South Florida 11, Baylor 9, Texas A&M 5, UCF 4, Cincinnati 3, Missouri 3, N.C. State 3, Houston 1, Louisiana Tech 1, Mississippi St. 1, N. Illinois 1.