The preseason USA Today Coaches poll was released Thursday with LSU narrowly edging Alabama and Southern Cal at No. 1.
LSU received 1,403 total points, ahead of Alabama (1,399), which won the 2011 national championship with a victory over the Tigers in the BCS national championship game.
USC went 10-2 last season but wasn't eligible for postseason play. The Trojans are packed with skill-position talent, headlined by quarterback Matt Barkley and wide receiver Robert Woods, and had a total of 1,388 points in Thursday's poll, well ahead of No. 4 Oklahoma and fifth-ranked Oregon.
The Trojans are the only team not ranked in the top 25 to end 2011 in the poll until Texas (No. 15), Florida (23), Notre Dame (24) and Auburn (25).
Georgia (6), South Carolina (9) and Arkansas (10) give SEC five teams in the top 10. Florida State and Michigan, ranked seventh and eighth, are also in the top 10.
No. 8 Michigan begins the season Sept. 1 against Alabama at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
Their Big Ten brethren, Wisconsin and Michigan State, are ranked No. 12 and 13.
Both teams were 11-3 last season and met in the Big Ten conference championship game won by the Badgers. Michigan State's opener, a Friday night home game, is against No. 22 Boise State. The Broncos finished last season ranked sixth in the coaches' poll. Oklahoma State, third in the season-ending postseason poll in January, appears at No. 19, one spot behind the Cowboys' Fiesta Bowl victim Stanford.