The Preseason AP Top 25 poll won’t come out until next month, but here at BangTheBook.com, we’re giving you a Top 25 from a betting perspective. Using power ratings to determine the top 25 teams in college football, readers will have the opportunity to look at what the preseason Top 25 might look like if designed by a bettor. Each article will feature a preview of that team with a write-up for each position and an explanation of why the position group was rated that way and some further insight into the methodology of creating power ratings.
The Methodology: Each team is rated up to 100 with eight different position groups considered. Quarterbacks, offensive and defensive lines, and coaching are graded on a scale of 4 to 15, while running backs, wide receivers, linebackers, and defensive backs are graded on a scale of 4 to 10 in half-point increments.
Groups are rated on returning production, potential, previous performance, and a handful of other variables. Information was gathered from all corners of the college football world, including preseason magazines, websites dedicated to specific teams, national college football websites, and more.
The #7 team on the BangTheBook.com Preseason Top 25 is the USC Trojans.
While at the University of Washington, Steve Sarkisian had a hand in the development of first-round draft pick Jake Locker and Keith Price, who owns 10 school records and has the second-most passing yards in program history. Cody Kessler completed over 65 percent of his passes last season and provided stability at position that needed it. Not only that, but the #1 quarterback recruit in last year’s class, Max Browne, is coming off a redshirt season and could be the next great USC QB.
Running Backs (8.5/10)
Javorius Allen and Tre Madden both ran for more than five yards per carry last season and they get to run behind a lot of highly-touted recruits. Like the quarterbacks he developed, Sarkisian helped Bishop Sankey grow into one the country’s premier running backs. As always, there’s plenty of athleticism with this group, even though there’s no star at the present.
Wide Receivers (8.5/10)
Marqise Lee departs after an injury-prone season as the program’s all-time leading receiver in just three years of play. Nelson Agholor is back after his coming out party in 2013 and the Trojans get back some highly-touted players that suffered torn ACLs last season. With more stability at the quarterback position, the USC offense should take big strides this season and the passing game will be a major reason why.
Offensive Line (13.5/15)
Left guard Max Tuerk moves inside to center to replace three-year starter Marcus Martin and as many as three sophomores could start in the first year under Sarkisian. Trojans quarterbacks were sacked 34 times last season and Washington Huskies QBs were sacked 30 or more times in each of the last three seasons. This is a rather inexperienced group, but, again, top-rated recruits are all over the two-deep and talent should carry this group through the change in schemes.
Defensive Line (13/15)
The defensive line had some difficulties at times last season, especially in conference play, where opponents ran for 4.4 yards per carry. That’s not a confidence-inspiring number, especially because the Trojans didn’t even face Oregon. There’s good size and good talent in this group and the coaching staff looks the type that will be able to maximize talent right from the start.
Only one starter, Devon Kennard, is gone and he likely gets replaced by the #3 recruit at linebacker in last year’s class, Jabari Ruffin, or one of the other top 20 recruits on the depth chart. This a fast linebacker group with a lot of size for breaking up passes in coverage and there’s no reason to believe that this area will be a weakness.
Defensive Backs (9/10)
The strength of the defense is probably in the secondary with a group that was tested early and often in the pass-happy Pac-12. The Trojans only allowed 5.8 yards per attempt last season and don’t have any major losses to a group that is loaded with top recruits. More consistency from the front seven could also benefit the secondary and that would also lead to an increase in turnovers.
This is a tremendous coaching staff that could bring USC back to the elite status it experienced earlier in the 2000s under Pete Carroll. Sarkisian has the luxury of staying in the Pac-12, which should help with planning for opponents, and he kept Clay Helton on the staff as the offensive coordinator. He brought Justin Wilcox with him from Washington and it will be interesting to see what he can do with more talent than he ever had at Washington. The only thing holding this group back from a perfect score is some uncertainty about Helton, given how the offense has underachieved a little over the last couple of seasons.
There’s a ton of talent here and it’s better to start high with talent than start too low. The reason is that some oddsmakers will take a wait-and-see approach with a team like USC, a group that is just 10-17 ATS over the last two seasons and a team that plays to its potential will be lined so high that a major adjustment will be required. The Trojans also start with three teams that could take major steps back this season and that means that lines could be a little bit inflated anyway.
Another reason for the high rating is the belief that Sarkisian and his staff will maximize talent. At Washington, Sarkisian made some quality teams out of a few excellent players and a lot of guys who came in without a lot of fanfare and became quality players. At USC, Sark and his staff don’t have to create players, they simply have to smooth out their edges. It was clear that Lane Kiffin wasn’t working out and the Trojans looked significantly better after his exit.
Talent and a major coaching upgrade are more than enough to put USC solidly in the top ten of our Preseason Top 25.
Adam Burke is a freelance writer and amateur handicapper with a knack for finding value through matchup analysis and a deep understanding of the sports betting market. His main area of expertise is baseball, with a background in sabermetrics and advanced statistics. He is the host of The Gridiron Gambling Report and our college football and college basketball BangTheBook.com podcasts on the BlogTalkRadio Network.