Athlon Sports has released parts of its 2012 college football preview package online, including most of its Preseason Top 25 rankings.
The magazine has the Oregon Ducks at No. 4, just behind Alabama. Still to be named are the top two, but they will no doubt be USC and LSU, and quite possibly in that order.
Preseason rankings are little more than speculation, but after going months without college football, we eat this stuff up, don't we?
So did Athlon stick the Ducks in a good spot, at fourth nationally and first in the Pac-12 Conference's North Division?
I think so. Oregon has earned top-five respect, at this point, despite losing running back LaMichael James and quarterback Darron Thomas. The Ducks have won three consecutive conference titles, and are coming off their first Rose Bowl victory since 1917.
I tend to favor Oregon over USC to win the Pac-12, considering the Ducks' recent run of success, but I can understand college football analysts picking the Trojans ahead of Oregon in polls such as these. USC did beat the Ducks this past season -- just barely -- and returns the super-talented Matt Barkley at quarterback.
Meanwhile, Oregon will be breaking in a new starting QB, with either sophomore Bryan Bennett or redshirt freshman Marcus Mariota set to claim the job. Mariota was spectacular in the Ducks' spring game, outplaying Bennett despite the sophomore's edge in experience. Whichever way he goes, coach Chip Kelly should have a solid starter on his hands, inexperience and all.
The uncertainty at quarterback is a big reason many analysts are picking USC ahead of the Ducks, and it's a testament to how successful the team has been recently -- Oregon is the only team in the nation to have reached three consecutive BCS bowl games -- that they are getting top-five recognition at this point despite heading into the 2012 season without a seasoned quarterback.
Athlon notes that the Ducks return a great deal of talent on both sides of the ball, and their depth, in particular, is impressive.
Here's a look at the magazine's top 25, with the first two slots filled in as question marks, since they won't be released until June 5 (but, as I noted, it'll most likely be USC and LSU):
Athlon Sports College Football Preseason Top 25
3. Alabama Crimson Tide
4. Oregon Ducks
5. Oklahoma Sooners
6. Ohio State Buckeyes
7. Michigan Wolverines
8. Georgia Bulldogs
9. Florida State Seminoles
10. South Carolina Gamecocks
11. Texas Longhorns
12. West Virginia Mountaineers
13. Arkansas Razorbacks
14. Nebraska Cornhuskers
15. Clemson Tigers
16. Virginia Tech Hokies
17. Wisconsin Badgers
18. Michigan State Spartans
19. Oklahoma State Cowboys
20. Notre Dame Fighting Irish
21. Stanford Cardinal
22. TCU Horned Frogs
23. Louisville Cardinals
24. Boise State Broncos
25. Washington Huskies
More Oregon football:
Adam Sparks has been following Oregon Ducks football since 1990, and has written about the team as a freelancer since 2009.