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Thursday, May 27, 2010
What's up with OU at No. 1?

By ESPN.com staff
ESPN.com

Mark Schlabach has Oklahoma at No. 12 in his post-spring top 25. The Sporting News' top 100 lists the Sooners at No. 10. Most other early rankings had them just inside or outside that mark.

Landry Jones
Landry Jones is one reason for Sooner optimism. He threw for 3,198 yards and 26 touchdowns last season.
So when Phil Steele and his preseason magazine crew put the Sooners as their preseason No. 1, they had to know it'd garner some attention. Mission accomplished.

But even if Steele is overrating the Sooners, who finished last season 8-5, it's far from an insane pick. Call it a leap of faith in a group of five guys.

It's not hard to see why they're a top-10 team. They have a deep group of running backs with an experienced feature back. They have a quarterback in Landry Jones who threw for 3,198 yards and 26 touchdowns while being thrust into sudden action when Sam Bradford played only sparingly after suffering a shoulder injury in the season opener. He could be set for a big year.

They also have the conference's best receiver in Ryan Broyles, who caught 15 touchdowns in 2009, second-most in college football. He also emerged as Jones' safety blanket, catching 89 passes and notching fewer than seven receptions in just three games, including a loss to Miami when he was injured after a 37-yard reception on the opening drive.

The defense should have one of the best front fours in the country, headlined by defensive end Jeremy Beal. Junior linebacker Travis Lewis has taken control of the Sooners' leadership role after leading the team in tackles as a freshman and sophomore, and will line up next to a pair of promising young linebackers in Tom Wort and Ronnell Lewis, or experienced junior Austin Box.

The same goes for the secondary, which returns both safeties and should be deep at corner with Demontre Hurst, Jonathan Nelson, Jamell Fleming and Gabe Lynn.

In short, Oklahoma is well above average at nearly every unit.

But there's a unit missing from that breakdown, the unit Steele clearly must have faith in: the offensive line.

I can't speak for Steele's reasons, but if the offensive line doesn't improve -- and that's a big if -- then Steele's prediction is outrageous.

Oklahoma's current offensive line consists of Jarvis Jones, Stephen Good, Ben Habern, Tyler Evans and Cory Brandon. That's absent two NFL draft picks in Trent Williams and Brody Eldridge, along with outgoing senior Brian Simmons.

If last year is any indication, that lineup will change. The Sooners started nine different combinations on the offensive line in 2009, in part because of injury and in part because of injury.

Steele put Good, who started just seven games last season, on his All-Big 12 first team. He put Brandon on his second team. Habern made the third team and Jones, who missed the last four games of last season with a fractured heel, was on his fourth team.

Jones earned an All-Big 12 honorable mention nod, but the others on Steele's list didn't make any postseason lists.

As his preseason poll indicates, he disagrees with those assessments.

And we'll have to wait three more months to find out if he's right. And I'll wait for e-mails from Alabama fans ripping me for not calling Steele a houndstooth-hating fool.

Here's where the rest of the Big 12 sits on Steele's top 25:

1. Oklahoma

5. Nebraska

11. Texas

No dice for the Tigers or Aggies, who've slipped into the top 25 in a few pre-preseason polls.