It's not easy doing college football preseason magazines these days. By the time they hit the newsstands, the best parts have already made it to the Web.
They're kind of a dying breed, it seems. So when we saw a new magazine this week, we had to stop and take a look.
"COLLEGE FOOTBALL-- 100 IMPACT PLAYERS," the cover said simply. The publisher is Beckett Sports, the folks who do the card collecting stuff out of Texas.
But the closer we looked at the cover, there jumping out from behind UCLA's Brett Hundley was a familiar Cardinal-and-Gold No. 37. First of all, there's that number. Who famous has ever worn it? In football, maybe Shaun Alexander, another Northern Kentuckian like me. That might be it.
But there it was, that number on the cover that Buck Allen defiantly keeps to remember where he came from. But then his presence signified that Buck must be one of the "100 IMPACT PLAYERS."
Interesting. And smart. We'd have to check it out. And so we have. But as bullish as we are about this USC team, we weren't expecting this. You might not be expecting it either.
We'll confess, the first thing we did is scan for Trojans. "If Buck made it," we figured, "so will some of the rest of the guys."
But the next one surprised us more than any, not because he doesn't deserve it but quarterback Cody Kessler at No. 68 has often been overlooked in a packed Pac-12 position full of stars. Not here.
But not by himself. A QB needs somebody to throw the ball to and that would be No. 73, wide receiver Nelson Agholor, giving USC five of the nation's top 73 impact players.
Amazing. Only Florida State, as you might guess, had more "IMPACT" players with seven. Alabama tied USC with five, but it took down to No. 88 for the Tide to get their fifth one. So we break that tie in USC's favor.
But think about that. In the third year of limited scholarships and outrageously unfair NCAA sanctions, USC has more "IMPACT" players than all but the defending national champions the last three seasons.
Incredible. impossible, really. And yet, there it is. Williams, Allen, Cravens, Kessler and Agholor. Makes our point that this is the year for USC, despite the fewer than 70 originally recruited scholarship players. Somehow, some way, this team has these players.
Oregon has a Pac-12 next-best to USC of four (No. 2, QB Marcus Mariota, No. 21, DB IfoEkpre Olomu; No. 59, RB Byron Marshall, No. 91, RB Thomas Tyner. But these teams won't meet until a possible championship game.
Toss Notre Dame's one (No. 89 QB Everett Golson in there and you equal USC's total with its top three rivals. Not sure what to say about that. No way the three teams directly recruiting against USC should have to combine to equal the Trojans' marquee player numbers.
But in midsummer, there it is. The rest of the Pac-12 has three more Top 100 guys -- Arizona State with two (No. 56 QB Taylor Kelly and No. 60 WR Jaelen Strong and Colorado with one -- LB Addison Gillam.
So, if you're keeping score at home, USC will face 12 Top 100 players this season in seven games and if you pro-rate USC's five guys over those games, will be doing so with 35 Top 100 players of its own. Advantage USC? Maybe.
But we pretty much can't get past USC's five. How did this happen? And what is it that they're saying about these guys? Well here is some of it.
* Leonard Williams (11): "expect him to not only be the elite defensive linemen this year but also a top overall impact player."
* Buck Allen (41): "Allen, a bigger back than most on our list . . . if Allen can spread out his late-season production from 2013 across an entire season of 2014, he may be the most impactful back in the nation."
* Su'a Cravens (55): "Expected to make an impact, quickly, which he did . . . and with pass-rushers attacking the line of scrimmage, a more successful pass rush could make it easier for Cravens to make impact plays."* Cody Kessler (68): "the emergence of Allen could take some of the pressure off Kessler, opening up downfield options . . . and even though it will be harder to shine in the QB-heavy Pac-12, what he's shown so far has been impressive."
* Nelson Agholor (73): "USC faces Stanford in the second game which will be a great time for him to make an early impact in the Pac-12 . . . the last two games of the season against UCLA and Notre Dame will be critical for Agholor to take charge and possibly lead USC to the Pac-12 championship game."
Couldn't have said it better ourselves. If only . . .