The Oklahoma Sooners look to be the frontrunner for preseason #1 when the 2011 AP and Coaches polls come out in August. Reigning champs of the Big 12 Conference (in the league’s last season with 12 actual members) Oklahoma has the talent and experience to run through a slate against which every opponent ought to be the underdog. Throw in that there’s no longer a conference championship game to derail a BCS title run and the Sooners have their best shot in decade to win the whole enchilada.
So far, Oklahoma has either topped or placed second in every major 2011 preseason ranking, getting top honors from Andy Staples of Sports Illustrated, Mark Schlabach of ESPN along with Rivals.com and Nationalchamps.net. The lone holdout amongst early pundits is Dennis Dodd of CBS.sportline who ranks the Sooners second.
Are such lofty predictions justified? The UCONN Huskies probably think so.
While DeMarco Murray is a huge loss for the Sooner rushing attack, the Oklahoma offense returns 9 starters from their 12-2 team of 2010. Landry Jones begins his third year as the starting quarterback and the junior signal caller looks more and more poised with every snap. His main target will be Ryan Broyles (a likely All-American) in what could be the most dangerous passing combo in the nation.
The Sooners open 2011 on the road against Tulsa. The Golden Hurricane is fresh off a 10-3 season that ended with a 62-35 embarrassment of host Hawaii in the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl. Could be a close game for two quarters.
Oklahoma then gets a bye week before heading to Tallahassee to face a resurgent Florida State. FSU may be in the Top 10 to start this season but, if Oklahoma performs against them as they did in 2010 (a 47-17 shellacking), they’ll need a little more than preseason love to get by.
Next up is Missouri. Minus Blaine Gabbert and in Norman. Don’t expect Mizzou to pull off two in a row against Oklahoma.
Ball State follows Missouri into Norman the week before the Red River Rivalry. Cardinals finished 8th in the Mid-American Conference standings. Doesn’t bode well for Ball State in this contest.
Will Texas rebound from its worst season in 13 years? If not, back to back games against Ball State, Texas and a reeling Kansas team could be OU’s easiest stretch of the season. The remainder of the year sees Texas A&M (on November 5) and Oklahoma State (the final game of the regular season) as the most likely challengers to derail the Sooners’ BCS title run.
The early prognosticators see Oklahoma as the first non-SEC National Champion in six years. Looking at what lies ahead for OU in 2011, I find it hard to argue against them. I have Oklahoma atop my own preseason Top 25