AP College Football Writer
POSTED: 09:16 a.m. HST, Aug 18, 2012
LAST UPDATED: 12:09 p.m. HST, Aug 21, 2012
NEW YORK >> Southern California is No. 1 in the AP Top 25, tossing off the weight of NCAA sanctions and returning to a familiar place in the rankings — with a boost from LSU's problems.
USC earned the top spot in The Associated Press' preseason college football poll for the seventh time in school history and the first time in five seasons, edging out No. 2 Alabama and No. 3 LSU.
USC and the University of Hawaii will play their first game of the season in Los Angeles on Sept. 1.
The Trojans, who were banned from postseason play the past two seasons, received 25 of a possible 60 first-place votes from a media panel in a close vote. USC received 1,445 points. Defending national champion Alabama had 17 first-place votes and 1,411 points while LSU, the Crimson Tide's SEC rival, got 16 first-place votes and 1,402 points.
"We definitely didn't come here to be underdogs," Trojans safety T.J. McDonald said Saturday. "The ranking doesn't mean we've done anything as a team. But it's good to see we're back where we're supposed to be."
Oklahoma was fourth with a single first-place vote and Oregon was fifth. Michigan, at No. 8, received the only other first-place vote.
The Tigers were poised to start the season No. 1 before Heisman Trophy finalist Tyrann Mathieu got kicked off the team a week ago.
In light of that development, the AP extended the voting deadline. Before Mathieu was dismissed, reportedly for failed drug tests, LSU had received 28 of a possible 60 first-place votes. USC was a close second with 22 first-place votes and Alabama was third with nine.
The USA Today coaches' poll, which was released Aug. 2, had LSU at No. 1, followed by Alabama and USC.
Rounding out the top 10 in the AP rankings, Georgia was No. 6, followed by Florida State and Michigan. No. 9 South Carolina and No. 10 Arkansas give the Southeastern Conference half of the first 10 teams.
For the Trojans, their return to national championship contention comes just two years after the program was hit by NCAA sanctions that seemed crippling at the time.
"To be handed down what they said could be a death penalty, could take USC 10 years to come back from, then to have this recognition and be preseason No. 1 is very exciting for our fans because a lot people thought two years ago that this would not be possible for USC," coach Lane Kiffin told the AP.