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Irish, Nittany Lions, Huskers fall out of top rankings

Southern California greeted news of its first preseason No. 1
ranking since 1979 with ambivalence.

"I could care less," quarterback Matt Leinart said Saturday.
"But, you know, it's cool because it shows how hard we've worked.
That's our goal to be at the top. We're not satisfied right now.
Last year was last year. And this year is a new season."

The defending national champions earned the top spot in The
Associated Press poll by receiving 48 of 65 first-place votes and
1,603 points.

It's the fourth time the Trojans have been preseason No. 1. They
also started top-ranked in 1963 and '73, the year after their last
national title.

"It really doesn't mean a thing to us," coach Pete Carroll
said. "It's nice. It's respected. But what are we going to do with
it? It's a lot of hype from last year and what was accomplished
last year."

Oklahoma, which was No. 1 for most of last season before losing
its final two games, was No. 2 with 11 first-place votes and 1,529
points in the media poll. Heisman Trophy winner Jason White leads
the Sooners.

Georgia was No. 3, followed by fellow Southeastern Conference
member and defending co-national champion LSU at No. 4. The
Bulldogs received five first-place votes and the Tigers got the
remaining first-place vote.

No. 5 Florida State and No. 6 Miami open the regular season
against each for the first time as Atlantic Coast Conference rivals
on Sept. 6. They are separated in the poll by just four points
(1,291-1,287).

The Trojans enter the 2004 season with a nine-game winning
streak.

USC went 12-1 last season and finished top-ranked in the AP
poll, despite being left out of the Bowl Championship Series title
game. LSU beat Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl and was voted No. 1 in
the final coaches poll, as required by the BCS.

The Trojans return only nine starters from last year's team that
set Pac-10 records for touchdowns (68) and points (534). But don't
be fooled. USC has no shortage of speed, talent and depth.

Leinart threw for 3,556 yards and 38 touchdowns in his first
season as a starter. He directs an offense lacking only in
experience.

"When you have your quarterback back, that means a lot when
people evaluate you," Carroll said. "And obviously Matt had a
great year. He had a historical year for the Pac-10. We'll just go
out and play and see what happens."

Tailbacks Hershel Dennis, LenDale White and Reggie Bush would be
featured runners on most teams. For the Trojans, they share the job
and form one of the deepest backfields in college football. They
combined for 1,936 yards rushing and 20 touchdowns last season.

The Trojans have only one returning starter on the line and
Leinart will have to break in a group of neophyte wideouts with
star potential.

Help could be on the way at receiver. The Trojans are waiting
for a ruling from the NCAA on the eligibility of star receiver Mike
Williams. The All-American planned to enter the NFL draft but a
court ruling kept him out. He has been practicing with the team.

Defensive linemen Shaun Cody, a third-team All-American, and
Mike Patterson lead a defense that ranked No. 1 in the nation in
run defense (60.2 ypg).

"We have a great offense, but our defense is pretty good,
too," Cody said. "You need a whole team effort to be No. 1."

USC will try to join Florida State in 1999 as the only
wire-to-wire No. 1.

"Oh yeah we have a big target on our chest and we know that,"
Leinart said. "But that's not going to stop us."

Texas was No. 7 with Big Ten rivals Michigan and Ohio State
eighth and ninth, respectively. No. 10 West Virginia, the heavy
favorite in the reconfigured Big East, has never been ranked higher
in the preseason.

No. 11 Florida is coming off a second straight 8-5 season under
Ron Zook. The Gators are followed by Kansas State, California,
Tennessee and Clemson.

Virginia, Auburn, Missouri, Iowa and Utah are the next five.
Wisconsin, Maryland, Oregon, Purdue and Minnesota round out the Top
25.

The Big Ten leads all conferences with six teams in the
preseason poll. The SEC and ACC each have five.

As notable as which teams made the rankings is a group of teams
that didn't.

Notre Dame and Penn State, both coming off losing seasons, and
Nebraska will all be unranked to start the season. The Cornhuskers
went 10-3 last season and finished 19th in the final rankings but
changed coaches -- and offenses -- replacing Frank Solich and the
option with Bill Callahan and the West Coast offense.

The last time the Fighting Irish, Nittany Lions and Cornhuskers
all failed to make the preseason poll was 1964, when only the top
10 teams were ranked.