Shotgun Spratling/uscfootball.com

Lots of different projections for USC in preseason CFB magazines

We take a deep dive into the first two college football magazines -- Athlon and The Sporting News -- to hit the stands and give you some of what they have to say about mostly the Trojans here.

Not even summer yet and the preseason college football magazines have hit the stands. Not sure we’ve ever seen them in May before but there they were Monday – both from Athlon and The Sporting News.

And sure, you can get much of this online these days, but only in drips and drabs and not all of it. So we go for the magazines every time.

The first thing that jumps out at you, and this is just from the first two, is they really don’t know exactly what to do with USC – or the Pac-12, for that matter. Nashville-based Athlon pretty much has no use for the Pac-12 at all with no team ranked higher than Washington – yeah, Washington – at No. 11 with Stanford at No. 12, UCLA – yeah, UCLA – is No. 15 and USC No. 23 right ahead of No. 24 Oregon with Washington State at No. 30.

The TSN folks seem a bit more grounded with USC at No. 15 behind only No. 9 Stanford in the Pac-12 and ahead of No. 21 Oregon, the only other Pac-12 team in the Top 25.

Now for some more detail on individual and team Trojan preseason takes:

*** ZACH ON RIGHT TRACK: Both publications are impressed with individual USC players. JuJu Smith-Schuster is first-team All-American for each with a returning Zach Banner first team for TSN and second-team for Athlon while Adoree’ Jackson is a second-team All-American for both – at corner for TSN, as a return specialist for Athlon. Other teams with two first-team offensive All-Americans are Alabama, Clemson and Florida State although we’re not sure if we can count Bama’s recently arrested Cam Robinson here.

*** USC 3 TO 5: While USC has three players on the Athlon All-America team, the rest of the Pac-12 has five: Stanford RB Christian McCaffrey, Oregon RB Royce Freeman, UCLA OL Conor McDermott, Washington safety Budda Baker and Utah punter Andy Phillips.

*** CLAY NOT AN A: In grading the nation’s new coaches, Athlon says USC deserves no better than a B-minus for the 23rd best new hire but then speaks out of both sides of its commentary by saying after “all the turmoil” in recent years, Clay is “a low key step in the right direction” but “it’s fair to wonder if Helton is the right coach to lead USC back to national relevance.” No. 1 best hire, Athlon says, is Virginia Tech’s signing of Justin Fuentes from Memphis.

*** COTTON? REALLY? Start and end the season in Dallas? That’s where USC will end up after winning the Pac-12 South, TSN says, in the Cotton Bowl on Jan. 2 going against Tom Herman’s Houston team while Stanford goes to the Rose Bowl again to face Michigan. How about reversing that, we say. Beat ‘em in the championship game this time and send the Cardinal to Dallas and bring Harbaugh to Pasadena for USC. Now that would be fun.

*** HOW ‘BOUT THE HEISMAN: Got to like TSN’s take here. They have Stanford’s McCaffrey No. 1 ahead of Clemson’s DeShaun Watson and LSU’s Leonard Fournette. Actually McCaffrey should have won it last year. And someone should tell Athlon to stay up later on Saturdays. They have the Stanford RB fourth on their list behind Watson, Fournette and Florida State’s Dalvin Cook.

*** AND THEN AT NO. 16 : Other Pac-12ers on the Heisman list for Athlon: Josh Rosen at No. 8, Oregon’s Freeman at 9 and JuJu at 16. He’s also on TSN’s list of others to watch with Adoree’, listed as a “multipurpose candidate.”

*** OVER/UNDER: TSN’s most overrated Pac-12 team: Oregon. Most underrated? Utah. They’re saying Oregon will find it tough to crack the top half of the North while all the veteran Utes need is a QB.

*** RATING THE PAC-12: TSN does it in 18 categories from top coach to fastest receiver, from biggest hitter to top interview: Two Trojans made the list. JuJu as “top NFL prospect” with “size, speed and hands,” and that "138-yard game with a broken hand." Adoree’ is the “best athlete” for reasons we all understand.

*** TROJAN TRIVIA: Only two FBS stadiums have ever hosted the Olympics – both in the Pac-12. USC did so twice, of course, in 1932 and 1984 and Utah did once, with the 2002 Winter Games.

*** AND CHAD TOO: To the trio of USC players already mentioned, JuJu, Zach and Adoree’, add OT Chad Wheeler as the only other Trojan on TSN’s All-Pac-12 first team.

*** 44-22: An amazing number, really. That's USC’s W-L record the last five years through the teeth of the NCAA sanctions posted by TSN. Only Oregon (57-11) and Stanford (54-14) in the Pac-12 did better. UCLA? 43-24. Arizona State? 40-26. Utah? 37-26.

*** CP NO. 10: Ranking the coordinator hires, Clancy Pendergast is way too low at No. 10 in the nation according to Athlon that inexplicably rates new Oregon DC Brady Hoke No. 7 and behind – much more explicably – No. 2 Dave Aranda who left Wisconsin for LSU.

*** RJIII NO. V: In listing the “Breakout Players of 2016,” Athlon has USC’s Ronald Jones III as the fifth prospect in the nation although now that we look at it, that’s in alphabetical order. Still, they got RJIII right.

*** NO. 82/3: Athlon has USC opponent Utah State’s Aggies No. 3 in their Mountain West Division and No. 82 in the nation with a projected 7-5 record.

*** FOSTER FARMS . . . YIKES: Not so congenial a bowl pick from the folks at Athlon. They have an 8-4 Trojans team heading to the Bay Area again for what would be a dreary matchup with Northwestern while UCLA flips to the Holiday Bowl with Stanford to the Alamo Bowl and Washington (against Michigan) in the Rose Bowl.

*** HARD TO LIVE DOWN: All the USC defensive coaches from 2015 my be gone but it’s hard to forget, apparently, when you look at Athlon’s position group rankings that have the Trojans’ D-line No. 9 in the Pac-12 and the DBs and the LBs at No. 5 each, both too low. USC has the No. 1 O-line and WR/TE group in the league, the No. 3 RBs behind Stanford and Oregon and the No. 6 QBs behind – inexplicably again – Oregon (No. 4) and Arizona (5).

*** AND CAM MAKES 4: Joining the Big 3 of JuJu, Zach and Adoree’ on Athlon’s All-Pa-12 first team is Cameron Smith at LB. Second-teamers on offense – RJIII, Toa Lobendahn and Chad. On defense, Iman Marshall at CB. On special teams, Adoree’.

You can follow me on Twitter at @dweber3440 or email me at weber@uscfootball.com.

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