CATCH US IF YOU CAN: Curtis McNeal and the USC Trojans will try to go wire to wire as the top dogs. Photo courtesy Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

The AP released their preseason Top 25 yesterday, and those who’ve followed college football recently might’ve done a double-take. USC, yes, the University of SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA, are atop the list, capping off a complete rebuild from the dark days of the Reggie Bush scandal and subsequent consequences.

Already, this college football season is interesting. The SEC, between LSU, Alabama, and Auburn, have absolutely dominated the college football world the last few seasons. And now, even before a single game has been, the entire conference has been dethroned? Bring on the controversy.

Of course, the AP Poll is not the end-all-be-all. And when we finally get some playoffs in here, being ranked #1 will do nothing more than place a massive target on your back. But for now, the calculators and computers still matter, making this #1 ranking for USC huge.

And if you don’t think the decision is contentious, the USA Today Poll, which, admittedly, is often viewed as less significant than the AP Poll, has LSU #1 and the Trojans THIRD behind Alabama. What should you take away from this? We pretty much have three teams that are neck and neck (and neck).

But with what little we have to go on, it appears, split decision and all, that USC is the top dog for now. And, as with any top-ranked team, the burning preseason question is if they can run the table. So will the Trojans? Let’s take a look.

7 ON 7: Matt Barkley and T.J. McDonald will need to quarterback their respective sides of the football if a national title is in the Trojans’ future. Photo courtesy Jeff Gross/Getty Images

Here is the Trojans’ schedule:

9/1 – vs. Hawaii
9/8 – vs. Syracuse
9/15 – @Stanford
9/22 – vs. California
10/4 – @Utah
10/13 @ Washington
10/20 vs. Colorado
10/27 @ Arizona
11/3 vs. Oregon
11/10 vs. Arizona State
11/17 @UCLA
11/24 vs. Notre Dame

I can’t tell you USC has to take it one game at a time without a severe cliché-based eye roll on your part, so let’s weed out the less worrisome games. The Trojans should be able to handle Hawaii, Syracuse, Cal, Washington, Colorado, Arizona, and UCLA without a problem.

On September 15th, visiting Palo Alto will be the first real test for USC. Make no mistake though, this is nothing like the Stanford squad last year. Yes, Andrew Luck is gone, but it’s not just that. The Cardinals suffered a painful exodus of talent via the NFL and graduation. According to the AP Poll, they’re nationally-ranked for now, but that may change by the time mid-September rolls around.

Utah is a team top schools would be wise not to sleep on. And when the Trojans visit them the first week of October, they will not be an exception to that rule. Utah is sort of your quintessential dark horse, underdog squad that could cause a lot of problems in the Pac-12. And, if USC falters this season, don’t be surprised if you see the Utes in the conference title game.

Of course, the big game everyone will be highlighting is that between USC and Oregon. The two teams are easily in the Top 5 conversation and the game, depending on the season plays out, could theoretically be a prequel to the Pac-12 championship game. Oregon’s X-factor last season, LaMichael James is playing with the 49ers now, but this is still a very, very loaded roster. If Oregon comes into SoCal and scraps out a victory, I’m not even sure you can call it an upset. THAT’S how evenly-matched these two schools are.

Arizona State, on the docket for the week after Oregon, wouldn’t traditionally be a school seen as one that is capable of putting a championship contender on upset alert. But there is some fresh, young talent in Tempe. Moreover, when they travel west to play USC, the Trojans could be suffering from one of those infamous ‘big game’ hangovers where, with such a large hurdle in the rear view, players have a tendency not to prepare as rigorously as they do. On top of that, the Sun Devils have a future stud in the making in freshman running back D.J. Foster. If he can get turned loose, they could steal a costly win from USC.

The Trojans will then get a brief respite as they play cross-town rival UCLA, who should be the textbook definition of a doormat this year, but then will have to finish out the regular season playing the Fighting Irish. Notre Dame, of course, has spent much of this century trying to restore their good name as a perennial contender, and last year Michael Floyd took them to new highs. They found themselves just outside the Top 25 in the AP Poll, but are #24 in the USA Today Poll and #25 in’s Power Rankings. By the time they play USC Thanksgiving Day Weekend, it’s conceivable the Irish could be flirting with a Top 10 ranking. Suffice it to say, the Trojans should not look past them ESPECIALLY if they find themselves needing one more victory to punch their tickets to the conference title game.

That’s USC’s schedule in a little more than a nutshell. So how do we quantify the possibility they’ll still be numero uno come December? Here are my odds of their final record:

6-6 or worse: 99%
7-5: 97%
8-4: 89%
9-3: 81%
10-2: 70%
11-1: 57%
12-0: 48%

Now, whether or not they make the conference championship or find themselves still ranked as the top team in the nation when it’s all said and done partially depends on, of course, how the other top teams fare. That makes zeroing in on a fair way to guesstimate USC’s chances of winning either pretty darn hard.

It’s almost guaranteed that the Trojans would have to win their conference title game to stay ranked #1 in the nation. With that in mind, and with a hypothetical gun to my head, here is my best guess at the chances of USC accomplishing either of those two things:

Win Conference Championship: 57%
Appear in BCS Championship: 50%
Win BCS Championship: 40%
FINISH #1: 40%

NOTE: This story was originally published on SportsHead. To read this article and others click here.
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