Why USC isn't the real No. 1

Depth issues and concerns on defense could derail Trojans' title chances

Originally Published: August 27, 2012
By Rod Gilmore | ESPN Insider
Lane KiffinKirby Lee/US PresswireLane Kiffin's USC team could have trouble getting past Oregon in the Pac-12 this season.

A few years ago, Rick Reilly wrote that Lane Kiffin was "the most hated man in football." Kiffin had earned that description by ticking off a number of people in the business. Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis fired Kiffin and held a press conference to call him a liar. The Tennessee Titans sued him for "stealing" a coach. Kiffin accused Urban Meyer of cheating at Florida (but later publicly apologized) and reportedly tossed similar accusations at Alabama, Oregon, Washington and Fresno State. (Really, Fresno State?! C'mon, man.)

He was run out of Tennessee after taking his "dream job" at USC just one year into his tenure in Knoxville. Privately, many coaches complained that Kiffin had been handed three major jobs (Raiders, Tennessee and USC) without having paid his dues and proved he could coach. So it's pretty easy to see why Kiffin wasn't getting a lot of love.

He's getting plenty of love now. The AP preseason poll has tabbed his USC Trojans as the No. 1 team in the land. (USC is third in the coaches' poll but received more first-place votes than top team LSU and almost as many first-place votes as second-place Alabama). On the surface, it appears that the AP voters and many of the voting coaches are now fans of Kiffin and the job he's done at USC.

Or are they? Even though Kiffin has admittedly matured and is proving that he is a good coach, has he been forgiven for his past transgressions? Do these coaches and AP voters really believe he has the best team in the land, or are they just setting him up to fall short of expectations?

While it's impossible to know the thought process of each individual voter, I'm inclined to believe the latter. The reason why I believe that is simple: This USC team is not the best in college football. Here's why.

Rod Gilmore

College Football analyst
Rod Gilmore serves as an ESPN studio analyst on SportsCenter and College Football Live, and provides commentary on ESPN's Friday night game telecasts. He writes regularly for ESPN Insider.