A couple of weeks back, Sporting News reporter Matt Hayes put together a list of post-spring rankings of the top 25 players heading into the 2012-13 college football season. The list, Hayes wrote, was based on a “combination of on-field performance and next-level potential.” @@http://aol.sportingnews.com/author/matt-hayes@@

By and large, the inventory of college football talent was as strong as we’ve seen in recent years — if not a bit on the light side for top-tier running backs. As I scrolled through the names accompanied with the previous year’s stats, a brief player breakdown and a word or two from an unknown NFL scout, I was reminded of a distinct November night this past fall.

Among the top nine players chosen by Sporting News,@@http://aol.sportingnews.com/@@ three were Southern California Trojans, with senior quarterback Matt Barkley taking the No. 1 spot, followed by wide receivers Marqise Lee at No. 2 and Robert Woods at No. 9. Just for good measure, let’s remember that as a freshman last year, Lee caught 73 passes for 1,143 yards (that’s 15.7 yards per reception) and 11 touchdowns. His sophomore counterpart, Woods, pulled in 111 passes for 1,292 yards and 15 scores of his own. @@http://aol.sportingnews.com/ncaa-football/story/2012-04-22/college-football-top-25-matt-barkley-marqise-lee-usc-georgia-clemson-alabama@@

And when USC visited the raucous and ever-hostile Autzen Stadium last season, well, the duo combined to catch 15 passes for 240 yards and three first-half touchdowns to give Oregon its only loss in Pac-12 play. Sure, Barkley (26-for-34, 323 yards and four touchdowns) was nearly perfect that night, too. @@http://www.goducks.com/ViewArticle.dbml?SPID=233&DB_OEM_ID=500&ATCLID=205336357@@ @@http://www.goducks.com/ViewArticle.dbml?&DB_OEM_ID=500&[email protected]@

While it may be, oh, seven months premature here, we’ve known since the end of last year that Oregon’s Nov. 3 trip to Memorial Coliseum figures to pit two top-five teams against each other for the regular-season Pac-12 title. No surprises there, right? @@http://www.goducks.com/SportSelect.dbml?&DB_OEM_ID=500&SPID=233&[email protected]@

We know what to expect from the Trojans and their future No. 1 overall NFL draft pick at quarterback. The guy has been annoyingly efficient against the Ducks in his three career appearances — and even garnered some praise from Chip Kelly for his composure when Barkley made his first trip to Eugene as a freshman starter back in 2009.

The question, or maybe just morbid curiosity here, is what to anticipate from Lee and Woods. Frankly, it’s more than a little unsettling. Sporting News’ anonymous NFL scout said of Lee, “These are the guys where you wish we had the one-and-done rule of the NBA.” And of Woods: “He’s going to play a long time in this league. He has position smarts; he knows the game and is loaded with ability.”

Don’t misconstrue my appreciation for these two receivers as disrespect toward the Oregon secondary, though I could see how someone might come to that conclusion. The fact of the matter is the Ducks are young in the defensive backfield. Loaded with talented and big-play ability? Yes, but still young.

My guess is that even against, say, the top two defensive backs in Sporting News’ top 25 — LSU’s Tyrann Mathieu and N.C. State’s David Amerson — USC is still taking its shots downfield. More often than not, it’s less of a “shot” and more of a sure thing. That’s how good these guys are together. @@http://www.lsusports.net/ViewArticle.dbml?DB_OEM_ID=5200&ATCLID=204879593@@  @@http://www.gopack.com/sports/m-footbl/mtt/amerson_david00.html@@

Of course, the Pac-12 isn’t without a few other downfield threats. Cal junior Keenan Allen made the list, and so did Oregon’s De’Anthony Thomas (though his name was misspelled). @@http://www.calbears.com/sports/m-footbl/mtt/allen_keenan00.html@@ @@http://www.goducks.com/ViewArticle.dbml?SPSID=3378&SPID=233&DB_LANG=C&DB_OEM_ID=500&ATCLID=205238473&Q_SEASON=2011@@

But when all’s said in done, it will be USC’s return to national contender that brings the Pac-12 out of the rut it’s been in over the last few years. There have been great seasons here at Oregon, obviously, but an admittedly weak stretch for the conference as whole, no doubt.

I can assure you this won’t be the last you hear of Lee and Woods, and by the time that game rolls around, we’ll all be ready for the highly anticipated rematch. Heck, most people are more than ready right now.

Only seven months and counting …

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