Los Angeles Times
POSTED: 7:04 a.m. HST, Jan 10, 2012
NEW ORLEANS — Someone or body or person or entity or coaching tower needs to step up and stand up to the Southeastern Conference in 2012.
The SEC’s six-year reign as national champions is starting to become embarrassing and annoying to other playing-football conferences such the Pac-12, Big 12 and Atlantic Coast.
The school we’re pushing into the ring next year to take on the champion is USC.
USC as No. 1?
Maybe, and this could change over the course of a summer. But rather than aggravating the SEC monster, which already has a Lane Kiffin issue, let’s make USC our early, as in real early, preseason No. 2 behind a school from the Sun Belt.
Next season’s No. 1 will be, and should be, Louisiana State, which actually was a year ahead of schedule this season.
LSU vs. USC is the kind of contrast-in-styles Bowl Championship Series title game a nation deserves — and would finally pit schools that should have met for the national title eight years ago.
That was the year the BCS short-form standings went off the rails. Top-rated Oklahoma got crushed in the Big 12 title game by Kansas State but stayed No.1 in the standings because poll voters couldn’t drop the one-loss Sooners below No.3 — every school below No. 3 had multiple defeats.
Oklahoma’s No. 1 computer ranking kept it on top of the final standings and forced a 1-2 game between the Sooners and LSU.
The team left on the porch was USC, even though it was No. 1 in both polls. The Trojans defeated Michigan in the Rose Bowl and ended up with The Associated Press title that year.
It’s time for LSU and USC to settle this program debate on the field. Both schools are set up to do it next year in South Florida.
The Orange Bowl as host worked out well for the Trojans in the 2002 and 2004 seasons.
USC became an instant 2012 contender when quarterback Matt Barkley announced he would return for his senior season. The Trojans finished 2011 10-2 and are poised for what could be one last title run before the impact of 30 scholarship losses over the next three years takes its toll.
Barkley, even when he gets to the NFL, may never throw to a more talented pair of receivers than Robert Woods and Marqise Lee. Curtis McNeal, who emerged as USC’s go-to tailback, is also back.
USC plays Hawaii, Syracuse and Notre Dame in nonconference games and gets Oregon at home.
LSU will be, again, ridiculously talented. The defense might not allow 50 points all year. The Tigers played Monday night’s BCS title game with seven significant sophomores on defense, including incomparable defensive backs Tyrann (“Honey Badger”) Mathieu and Eric Reid.
LSU loses both quarterbacks, Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee, but don’t send a sympathy card. Transfer Zach Mettenberger should do just fine handing off to a stable of stars.
Mettenberger, 6 feet 5 and 220 pounds, started at Georgia and was pushing Aaron Murray for the job before off-field problems off-tracked him to junior college and then Baton Rouge.
LSU’s 2012 nonconference schedule is not nearly as tough as this season’s, which featured Oregon and West Virginia. The Tigers face North Texas, Washington and Idaho. They also get SEC foes Alabama and South Carolina in Baton Rouge.
Rounding out next season’s early top five are Alabama, Oregon and Oklahoma.
Alabama will take some big hits on defense, losing the likes of linebacker Courtney Upshaw and safety Mark Barron. The Crimson Tide also will probably lose All-American tailback Trent Richardson, a junior, to this year’s NFL draft.
Alabama, though, has been a recruiting assembly line under coach Nick Saban and will be a victory at LSU next season from jumping straight to No. 1.
Oregon can replace USC in the non-SEC title equation if the Ducks win at USC next fall. Oregon loses tailback LaMichael James but returns quarterback Darron Thomas, Rose Bowl roadrunner De’Anthony Thomas and coach Chip Kelly.
Oklahoma moved into the top five after quarterback Landry Jones announced he was returning. The Sooners have something to prove after opening as No. 1 this season only to lose the Big 12 to archrival Oklahoma State.
Other contenders to consider: Georgia, South Carolina, Clemson, Florida State, Virginia Tech, Michigan and Kansas State.
If you think four SEC teams on the preseason top 10 are not enough, throw in Arkansas and yell “Pig, sooie!”