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Lane Kiffin shouldn’t be under scrutiny because he voted USC No. 1

Graham Watson
Dr. Saturday

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In college football, humility is one of those things that's fairly transparent.

Coaches know when their teams are going to be good, they know when they're going to be bad and they know when they just don't know. Despite being all-knowing, coaches often act coy when asked about their teams by saying things such as, "We're taking it day-by-day" or "I think we have the potential to be a very good team."

In Lane Kiffin's case, his attempt at humility came when asked about the USA Today Coaches' poll and where he'd vote USC.

"I would not vote USC No. 1, I can tell you that," he said.

The answer was in response to hearing Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez had voted USC No. 1. Now, votes are usually kept confidential until the final ballot, but when a coach says something factually wrong or misleading about his vote, USA Today, as the administrator of the poll, has the right to correct wrong information to protect the integrity of the poll. Unfortunately for Kiffin, he did indeed vote the Trojans No. 1 and was called out on it.

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But can you blame him for being a believer in his team? He joins 18 other coaches — including Rodriguez — who believe the same thing.

Kiffin told USA Today reporter Brent Schrotenboer that his quote about his first-ever ballot in the poll was misconstrued.

By saying what he did, Kiffin said he meant that he wouldn't vote USC No. 1 if he were in the media or coaching another team. Because of NCAA-imposed scholarship restrictions, USC is operating with 75 scholarship players, 10 less than the regular maximum of 85.

"We have less players than everybody else," Kiffin said. "So looking at it from the outside, I wouldn't (vote USC No. 1). Did I? Yeah, I did. That's not based off of 75 vs. 85. That's based off of (USC players) Matt Barkley, T.J. McDonald and Robert Woods and Marqise Lee. When everybody has the same record, I can't go into a meeting with our players and have them say, 'You put that team and that team ahead of us.' That's why I did that."

Honestly, I believe Kiffin's quote was misrepresented. And even if it wasn't, I don't blame him for not wanting the world to know that he voted his own team No. 1. But it's not like he voted for some team in which others didn't believe. USC is a strong contender for the national title along with LSU and Alabama. Those three teams constituted the closest preseason vote in the history of the poll. Kiffin isn't taking a big leap by voting his team No. 1.

Of course after the story came out, USC sports information department took issue with the fact that Kiffin's vote was revealed.

"USA TODAY sent a June 4, 2012, letter to coaches who agreed to vote in its college football poll stating that, except for the final poll of the regular season, 'votes for all other polls will be kept confidential by USA TODAY.'

"The fact that the leadership of the American Football Coaches Association, which tasks USA TODAY to administer its poll, joined with the poll administrators from USA TODAY to decide to breach that confidentiality by providing to a reporter a coach's vote in its pre-season poll is disappointing and attacks the integrity of the poll. Further, that the reporter who was given this information represents the very organization that conducts the poll is a conflict of journalistic interest."

Hey, the secrecy of this particular poll has long been challenged because coaches tend to vote in their own self-interest (see Steve Spurrier giving Duke a vote every year because of his affinity for the school). And if it didn't have a watchdog, I think it would be difficult to take the poll seriously. Coaches have to be held publicly accountable for their choices they make, especially when it affects the entirety of college football.

Again, I think it would have been a bigger deal if Kiffin had still been the coach of Tennessee and voted that team No. 1. Then, well, have at him. In this case, with a Heisman Trophy-caliber quarterback, two 1,000-yard rushers in the backfield and a slew of other weapons, I think Kiffin's vote for self-interest is spot-on.

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