Oklahoma No.1 in AP Poll

Published 12:00 am Saturday, August 20, 2011

By Ralph D. Russo
Associated Press
NEW YORK — Being voted preseason No. 1 is a tradition at Oklahoma, and this season is no different.
The Sooners will start out top-ranked in The Associated Press college football poll for the 10th time, more than any program in the country.
The defending Big 12 champions received 36 of 60 first-place votes and 1,464 points in the Top 25 released Saturday.
Auburn, last season’s national champion, will start the season No. 23, one spot behind where it began in 2010.
If the rankings are any indication, the national title race could be a scramble.
No. 2 Alabama, one of a record eight Southeastern Conference teams in the preseason poll, wasn’t far behind OU, receiving 17 first-place votes and 1,439 points.
No. 3 Oregon got four first-place votes, No. 4 LSU received one and No. 5 Boise State got two.
Florida State was No. 6, the Seminoles’ best preseason ranking since starting the 2004 season at No. 5.
Heisman Trophy favorite Andrew Luck and Stanford were No. 7.
Rounding out the top 10 are Oklahoma’s Big 12 rivals, Texas A&M (No. 8) and Oklahoma State (No. 9), and Nebraska (No. 10), in its first season in the Big Ten after leaving the Big 12.
No. 16 Notre Dame is ranked for the first time since early November 2009.
As for Oklahoma, no matter where it lands in the preseason, it always expects to make a run at a national championship in the end. It hasn’t won it all, however, since 2000.
That’s when coach Bob Stoops led the Sooners to their seventh AP national title in his second season in Norman. Since then, Oklahoma has lost three BCS championship games.
The Sooners have won the AP national title four times when they were preseason No. 1 (1956, 1974, 1975 and 1985). The last time they started a season top-ranked was 2003. That season, they lost the BCS championship game to LSU.
“We’re very matter of fact,” Stoops said this week. “All we think about is doing the work.”
“We’re also very aware we’re not much different than about 12, 15 other teams that’ll be competing for it that have legitimate chances to win it. What are we going to do differently to separate ourselves?”
Having the combination of quarterback Landry Jones and receiver Ryan Broyles is a good place to start.
Jones passed for 4,718 yards and 38 touchdowns last season, his second as a starter, and Broyles was his favorite target. The senior had 131 catches for 1,622 yards and 14 touchdowns.
Jones was forced into a starting role two years ago as a redshirt freshman when Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford went down with a shoulder injury. That was a tough season for the Sooners, who started ranked third but finished it 8-5.
Bradford was one of several key players Oklahoma lost to an injury that season, and Jones wasn’t the only underclassman who played a bigger role than expected.
“Now two years from that they have benefited from the maturity and the experience gained from being on the field at an early age,” Stoops said. “Our (offensive) line was young and now two years later they’ve got experience and some maturity to them. Same with Landry Jones. Same with Ryan Broyles.”
Earlier this month, Sooners fans must have had flashbacks to Bradford’s injury when linebacker and leading tackler Travis Lewis hurt his left foot in practice. He likely will miss at least the first four games, including a road trip to Florida State on Sept. 17.
“It’s a big blow to us, there is no denying it,” Stoops said.
Oklahoma has also been coping with the death of linebacker Austin Box, a would-be starter who overdosed on prescription painkillers in May.
“He’s very close to so many guys and … it wouldn’t be right to brush it to the side,” defensive coordinator Brent Venables said. “We’re trying to move forward and deal with it as best we can.”
The SEC has won five straight BCS title games and has plenty of candidates to make it six.
“We want to come out and win a national championship, to be undefeated,” Alabama safety Mark Barron said. “Every time we step out on the field, one of our motivating factors is to be special.”
South Carolina (No. 12), Arkansas (No. 15), Georgia (No. 19), Mississippi State (No. 20) and Florida (No. 22) give the SEC more teams in the preseason poll than any previous conference.
The Big Ten placed four teams in the rankings. Joining Nebraska are Wisconsin (No. 11), Michigan State (No. 17) and Ohio St. (No. 18).
With No. 21 Missouri, the Big 12 had four teams, too.
The Pac-12 had three teams, with No. 25 Southern California joining Oregon and Stanford.
The Atlantic Coast Conference placed two teams (Florida State and No. 13 Virginia Tech), as did the Mountain West Conference (Boise State and No. 14 TCU)
The Big East, which finished last season with no ranked teams, had one team in the preseason poll, No. 24 West Virginia.
Notable by its absence is Texas. Coming off a 5-7 season, the Longhorns are missing from the preseason Top 25 for the first time since 1998.
For now, ranked or not, every team is chasing Oklahoma.
“Who doesn’t want to be No. 1?” Sooners cornerback Jamell Flemming said.