USC Coach Lane Kiffin directs his players during a team practice session… (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles…)
USC's revival from two years of bowl-game bans, scholarship reductions and public ridicule is immediate.
The Trojans were declared the nation's preseason No. 1 team in the Associated Press poll Saturday, winning 25 of 60 first-place votes from sports writers to stand atop defending champion Alabama at No. 2 and runner-up Louisiana State at No. 3.
Oklahoma is fourth, followed by Oregon, Georgia, Florida State, Michigan, South Carolina and Arkansas. The Southeastern Conference, which has won the last six Bowl Championship Series titles, has five teams in the AP top 10.
"It's cool for our school, our fan base and those who endured the sanctions with us," said USC quarterback Matt Barkley, whose return to the team following a 39-touchdown, 3,528-yard season is the most attractive element of the team's potential.
Barkley said while the publicity of the ranking in advance of the Trojans' Sept. 1 opener against Hawaii is significant, "we're better off to forget about it.
"We don't want to get complacent. We have to be perfect this year."
The AP poll is no longer used in the formula that comprises the BCS standings but has crowned an independent champion since 1936.
The AP poll has been very kind to USC. This is the seventh time the Trojans have opened in the No. 1 spot, and the first time in five seasons.
USC Coach Lane Kiffin said the program's rally from harsh NCAA sanctions following violations found in the Reggie Bush scandal reveals "how powerful our," recruiting "run was before this, and how it's still paying off.
"It's great for our fans and university — all that we've been through, all that's been taken away — that this is where the media evaluates our football team," Kiffin said.
The Trojans will conduct their second and final scrimmage Sunday at 4:30 p.m., a session at the Coliseum closed to the public.
Kiffin identified defensive line play, tackling and watching "that the young guys are doing things right," as his primary areas of focus.
The defensive line is down two players because of injury, and the tackling will be pressed by the continued absence of middle linebacker Lamar Dawson, who remained on the sidelines at Saturday's practice without pads because of a foot injury. Kiffin said he also doesn't expect linebacker Anthony Sarao to play.
Kiffin identified offensive lineman Max Tuerk, defensive end Leonard Williams and wide receiver Nelson Agholor as true freshmen who have most impressed in camp.
"The coaches will be up in the press box," Kiffin said. "Without us telling them what to do, this is where," the young guys, "usually divide themselves into who can do it and who can't."
Kiffin hadn't finalized the scrimmage plan for using running back Silas Redd, the transfer from Penn State, following Saturday morning's practice.
Redd carried the ball only twice in the previous scrimmage, with one of the rushes for 43 yards.
"No clue," Redd said when asked how frequently he'd carry the ball Sunday. "I know this is the final exam. I'm ready for it."
Redd said coaches have assisted him greatly through the "incredibly challenging" process of learning the playbook, but he'd like to use the scrimmage time to tend to blocking, pass-catching and running responsibilities "with the real test of Hawaii coming up."
In good hands
Xavier Grimble will be targeted along with Randall Telfer in USC's two tight-end sets.
Grimble, a 6-foot-5 junior, is emerging in practice as a strong over-the-middle option for Barkley, scooping up two low passes and catching another in stride in Friday's afternoon session — an imposing option for a tackler confronting the 255-pound frame.
"It's me gaining my trust with Kiff', showing I'm staying on top of the playbook," Grimble said. "He wants players he can trust."
The Trojans added freshman quarterback Conner Sullivan, a 6-1, 180-pound walk-on from Orange Lutheran High, to the roster. Sullivan threw for 1,193 yards and seven touchdowns last season.
Times staff writer Chris Dufresne contributed to this report.