Early Bird: Stanford to start 2013 at No. 2? Not buying USC?

NationalChamps.net has released its annual “Early Bird” December forecast of the upcoming year’s preseason top 25. Near the top, the list includes many of the usual suspects such as Alabama, LSU, Oregon.

(Note that the objective of the Early Bird forecast is to give an idea of how the pollsters will vote in the preseason, not where teams will finish. Since 2004, the Early Bird has nailed at least eight of the preseason top 10 nine times.)

One name that stands out pretty clearly: Stanford, which is pegged as No. 2. The Cardinal are projected to bring back a total of 17 starters from this year’s Pac-12-winning squad, including quarterback Kevin Hogan and four starters on the offensive line. On defense, David Shaw’s team will have two of three starters on the defensive line back to go along with the entire secondary.

Johnny ManzielAnd what about Texas A&M? Apparently the voters are expected to bank on the Aggies not being a flash in the pan. The Early Bird has A&M slotted at No. 8 behind 14 returning starters, including Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel. Of course, if All-American offensive tackles Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews fly the coop along with elite GATA specialist Damontre Moore, the Early Bird might not be singing such a pretty tune about Aggie.

On the other hand, according to the Early Bird projections, the voters aren’t buying Lane Kiffin’s song and dance anymore. USC could have as many as 17 returning starters back. Doesn’t matter – Early Bird says 19th. The problem?

"Defensively USC has fallen short. Granted the numbers aren't bad, but they certainly are not what is to be expected from a No. 1 ranked preseason team of which USC was tabbed just last summer."

(Yeah, yeah – the writing is all like that. It's still worth a read.)