Time for our third take on a preseason college football magazine as it hits the stands. This time it's the Athlon guys out of Nashville. We recall how once upon a time, as hard as it may be to believe, we liked them for a couple of reasons.
Coming from SEC country ourselves, we liked it the way Athlon made sure the world treated the SEC fairly and there was a time, again as hard as it may be to believe, when the SEC was often overlooked.
Then there was this: Athlon had the highest quality paper stock and the best color photos, often devoted to cheerleaders.
But like everything else, there's a lot of competition out there, if nothing else, from the amount of information that gets out on the Internet before the magazines get to the newsstands with their long lead times.
Which makes it hard to take everything seriously. Like in the full-page "Quarterbacks On The Move" feature illustrated with the photo of ex-USC player Max Wittek and a description that's no longer true for at least three months that he's "on his way to Texas" where he'll "have two years of eligibility in Austin." If only.
But that doesn't mean there aren't nuggets here, some worth knowing, some worth reacting to. So here we go.
NOT ON OUR COVER . . . Three players on the cover and an Arizona cheerleader but no room for a Trojan with Oregon's Marcus Mariota, UCLA's Brett Hundley and Washington's Shaq Thompson taking up the front of Athlon's West Coast edition. Uh oh, not a good sign for USC.
BUT THEN . . . Athlon's first-team All-American squad has Leonard Williams on defense and Nelson Agholor on offense. Only Florida State, with six first-teamers, has more. Oregon, Stanford and Alabama also have two each. And for USC fans still burnt by his defection, one of the FSU guys is safety Jalen Ramsey.
NOT RATED . . . One of Athlon's features is the way they rank -- or in USC's case mostly -- don't rank the top team units by position. Take quarterback. Oregon hs the No. 2 QB unit in the nation, they say, with UCLA No. 5 and three other Pac-12 groups in the top 25 along with Marshall, East Carolina and Bowling Green but no USC despite the presence of Cody Kessler and Max Browne. Athlon's just not paying attention here.
REST OF THE RANKINGS . . . It gets a little better through other position groups for USC but not Athlon's credibility. Sure, USC's running back group is No. 9, but behind Miami, Nebraska and the other USC in South Carolina? Really? And no USC presence in either the top 25 of the O-line group but a No. 9 ranking in wide receivers/tight ends that seems about right until we know for sure about Randall Telfer's full-time durability.
BETTER ON DEFENSE BUT . . . Starting with a fifth-ranked D-line group (we think they'll be better than Michigan State and Clemson but that's just us), USC gets more of a shot here on the D-rankings. Linebackers are No. 10 but again, not sure we see a young, talented although maybe unproven group behind the likes of UCLA, Stanford and Washington. At No. 24, DB group also seems undervalued here and not No. 5 in the Pac-12.
2 FOR 3RD . . . A pair of Trojans get slots on Athlon's third-team All-American squad: Hayes Pullard at linebacker and Agholor at punt returner. We think that's too low for Nelson, the nation's No. 2 guy last year. But as in all these rankings, and disagreements, that's why they play the games. Which really is all that matters here.
NOT MUCH RESPECT FOR SARK . . . Not even a little bit. Athlon seems to go out of its way to downrate the Trojans' hire of Steve Sarkisian with little regard to the reports of how things have gone since his return from Washington. Of the new coaching hires, Sark is listed only as 12th best, behind No. 1 James Franklin at Penn State, No. 2 Chris Petersen from Boise State to replace Sark and the likes of Dino Babers to Bowling Green (No. 3), Graig Bohl to Wyoming (No. 4) and Derek Mason from Stanford D-coordinator to Vandy at No. 5.
BUT THERE'S MORE . . . A bigger slap on Sark are these higher-ranked hires: Dave Clawson (who?) at No. 8 to Wake Forest, Jeff Monken (who?) to Army ((No. 9), Willie Fritz (who?) to Georgia Southern (No. 10) and Charlie Partridge (who?) to Florida Atlantic (who?) at No. 11. Sark, my man, you have been dissed. If there were ever bulletin board material for a coach, this is it as Athlon wonders if in a few years, USC fans will be asking why the Trojans didn't go harder for Petersen or Charlie Strong, although Strong's hiring by Texas was ranked just seventh best.
WHO KNEW? . . . In its story on quarterback transfers, the most interesting note for us from Athlon was this: There were 44 QBs transferring out of 125 FBS schools. Another reason for the NCAA (who?) to get its act together and figure out a more fair way to handle transfers without the year of sitting out since coaches don't have to. Maybe a one-time opt-out with no ineligibility.
GOT YOUR HEISMAN RIGHT HERE . . . Sure, it used to be USC's moment, and maybe will be again, when it comes to Heisman Trophy time. But this year, the Trojans could help decide how it goes as they face four of the top 20 in the regular season -- Hundley, Arizona State's Taylor Kelly, UCLA's Myles Jack and Notre Dame's Everett Golson with a possible Pac-12 title game shot at a fifth contender in Mariota.
GOT YOUR HOT SEAT RIGHT HERE . . . We pay attention to this Top-10 coaching hot seat list because we'd like to see Ed Orgeron, after sitting out this season, find a spot here and pick up where he left off having resurrected USC after five games last fall. And while so few jobs really opened that seemed right a year ago (Louisville might have been it had not Bobby Petrino been secretly in line for a return from exile), there seem to be some decent ones here that could use a jolt of CEO enthusiasm, recruiting savvy and the organizational skills he showed on the fly last fall. Here they are: Virginia, Illinois, Kansas, Hawai'i, West Virginia, Nebraska, Rutgers and Indiana.
ANALYZE THIS . . . With the 13-person selection committee for the first-ever College Football Playoffs getting all hooked up on their iPads to all sorts of college football analytics, the average fan probably should as well. Here are five of them you should know, Athlon says: the more explosive team wins 86 percent of the time, the more efficient team wins 83 percent of the time, the team that finishes drives better wins 75 percent of the time, the team that wins the turnover battle wins 73 percent of the time and the team that wins the field position battle wins 72 percent of the time. Now you know why USC started so badly last season.
SCARY, SCARY USC STAT . . . Had no idea on this one so thanks to Athlon. USC's average yards-to-go number on third down last season was an astounding 7.8, No. 117 in the nation. How many bad plays do you have to have for a team with USC's talent to average a third-and 7.8? Yikes. What a difference this fall should bring. Or at least had better bring.
ONE MORE NUMBER . . . Boston College had the most plus-20-yard runs in the nation last year with Andre Williams' 26. No one else had more than 21. And yet against USC's speed, the graduated Williams had nowhere to run, gaining just 38 yards in 17 carries. Not a good sign for the Eagles in this year's matchup against the Trojans.
ONE MORE SHOT . . . Interesting slam from an unidentified Pac-12 assistant who Athlon has saying this about the USC secondary: "The safeties will come down and hit you but are maybe overly aggressive. I wasn't impressed with the corners."
THE FINAL WORD . . . Athlon isn't all that impressed with the Pac-12, ranking Oregon No. 6, UCLA No. 7, Stanford No. 12, USC No. 14, Arizona State No. 16 and Washington No. 24. If those rankings hold, there would be a Pac-12-less playoffs among Florida State, Alabama, Ohio State and Oklahoma. And that would make for a long Jan. 1 at the Rose Bowl for us locals.