Lane Kiffin has the Trojans ranked in the top 10 heading into the season, but can he follow in the footsteps of Pete Carroll and lead them to a top 10 finish?
It might not seem like it, but it is actually a rarity that two Pac-12 teams are ranked in the top 10 of the AP preseason poll like they have been the last two years, with Oregon and Stanford being ranked in the top 10 heading into last season and USC and Oregon including in the top 10 this preseason. Actually, in the last 10 seasons, this is only the third season that it has happened.
More importantly though, and serving as a good example of how the media will frequently underrate Pac-12 teams going into the season, two Pac-12 teams have ended up being ranked in the top ten in the final poll of the season seven out of the last 10 years.
When taking a look at the Pac-12 teams who have been ranked in the top 10 heading into the season and those who have finished in the top 10, it paints an interesting picture of how well preseason perceptions about teams heading into seasons held up over the course of a season.
#9 Washington - It might be a surprise for some of the younger fans of the conference that there was a time not that long ago when the Huskies were regularly a team with top 10 expectations. However, this was Rick Neuheisel's last season in Seattle and it was a rough one with the Huskies finishing 7-5 and getting embarrassed in the Sun Bowl by Purdue.
#4 USC - This was the Trojans breakout season under Pete Carroll that was capped off with an Orange Bowl dismantling of Iowa. USC dropped a couple of close games early in the season, but may have actually been the best team in the country at the end of the year.
#10 Washington State - Another ranking that might mystify younger fans, this was Mike Price's last season in Pullman and one of his best at the helm of the Cougars as they beat USC on their way to making it to a Pac-10 championship and a trip to the Rose Bowl.
#8 USC - The Trojans were expected to be a very good team going in 2003, but with the graduation of Carson Palmer and a number of other experienced players, many were skeptical if the Trojans could fully keep up the momentum that they built in 2002.
#1/#2 USC - The Trojans actually ended up outpacing their 2002 season with Matt Leinart under center and ended up losing only one game on the way to an AP National Championship. The Trojans were controversially passed up for the BCS National Championship Game by LSU and Oklahoma so the coaches were obligated to cast their first place vote for LSU, likely barring USC from an unanimous national championship.
#1 USC - An almost unfair amount of talent returned to USC for their 2004 campaign and they were the unquestioned top team heading into the season, led by Leinart, Reggie Bush, Lendale White and a bevy of NFL talent.
#1 USC - The Trojans rolled to one of the most impressive seasons ever in college football, capping it off by thrashing Oklahoma in the National Championship Game.
#4 Utah - I personally don't think they would have had a chance, but it would have been interesting to see Utah play USC in 2004, as the Utes also finished undefeated and blasted Pitt in the Fiesta Bowl.
#9 Cal - Aaron Rodgers and the Bears felt slighted by the BCS when they weren't selected for a BCS bowl after finishing the season with only one loss to top ranked USC in a last second thriller. The Bears frustrations may have shown in their Holiday Bowl appearance as they lost to Texas Tech by two touchdowns.
#1 USC - The Trojans were the overwhelming favorite heading into the season for the second straight year and for good reason, with most of their star players from the season before returning.
#2 USC - The Trojans would have won their third straight national championship and finished undefeated for the second year in a row if it wasn't for the thrilling loss they suffered to Texas in the National Championship Game.
#6 USC - Too much talent either graduated or left early for the NFL in LA for the Trojans to be predicted to be a top 5 team again, but there was certainly enough returning to warrant a top 10 ranking.
#9 Cal - One of the most highly anticipated seasons in the history of Cal football, the Bears had a ton of talent coming back including Marshawn Lynch, but had questions at quarterback and a tough schedule and it ended up tripping them up, though they did finish by winning the Holiday Bowl against Texas A&M and finishing in the top 20.
#4 USC - The fact that a two-loss season and a #4 finish was almost a disappointment at this point in their history is astounding but true, especially since it was only a heartbreaking loss to UCLA in the last week of the season that prevented them from going to a third-straight National Championship Game.
#1 USC - The Trojans returned a ton of talent from their Rose Bowl winning 2006 team, including a large number of offensive standouts and were the clear cut favorites to the win the Pac-10 and the national championship.
#3 USC - This was the heart of mini-era when the Trojans were probably more talented than everyone in the country but would lose a game or two and end up in the Rose Bowl where they would destroy a Big 10 team with this year's victim being Illinois.
#3 USC - The media had begun to pick up on the trend that USC would be the most talented team in the country, but would lose a game or two that they shouldn't and end up in the Rose Bowl and ranked somewhere in the top 5.
#2 Utah - The Utes were not part of the conference yet, but put together arguably the most impressive season ever by a non-BCS school, going undefeated and beating Alabama in the Sugar Bowl.
#3 USC - The media was exactly right as the Trojans rolled almost everyone they played in 2008, but lost a tough game to Oregon State early in the year before running the table and beating Penn State in the Rose Bowl.
#10 Oregon - This was the first year that the Ducks and their high octane offense appeared in the Trojans rear view mirror as they finished off a ten win season with a victory in the Holiday Bowl over Oklahoma State.
#4 USC - It was another season where the Trojans were expected to slightly underachieve despite their immense talent, though it is likely that they would have been the preseason #1 if Mark Sanchez had returned for his senior season. Pete Carroll's last season in LA would end up being his worst since his first as the Trojans lost four games and ended up in the Emerald bowl and no Pac-10 team finished ranked in the top 10.
#3 Oregon - This was the official end to the "USC and everybody else" era of the Pac-10 as Oregon went undefeated and made it to the national championship game despite not being ranked in the top 10 in the preseason as no Pac-10 team achieved the honor.
#4 Stanford - The Cardinal's only loss came to the Ducks as Andrew Luck led them to one of the best seasons in program history and a route of Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl.
#7 Stanford - Expectations were high in Palo Alto with Andrew Luck coming back for his junior season with a good amount of talent surrounding him, particularly upon the offensive line.
#4 Oregon - The Ducks bounced back from a loss to LSU early in the season and had a chance to go to a second-straight National Championship Game before being upset by USC in Eugene, but they did bounce back by getting a Rose Bowl win over Wisconsin.
#7 Stanford - The Cardinal had a great season, but a loss to Oregon kept them out of the National Championship Game and missed field goals resulted in them losing to Oklahoma State in the Fiesta Bowl in a game that they should have won.