Thursday, August 4, 2011
Sooners will try to go from first to first
The 2011 USA Today Preseason Coaches' Poll was released late Thursday morning with the Oklahoma Sooners taking the top overall spot. This is the first time Oklahoma is the preseason No. 1 in the poll since 2003, a season in which they reached the BCS National Championship game before falling to LSU. The team finished third in the coaches' poll that season.
However, the Sooners do not have recent history on their side - the last team to open up the season No. 1 in the coaches' poll and finish the season No. 1 was USC in 2004.
One challenge the Sooners will have to overcome in order to stay No. 1 will be performance on the road. Specifically, the performance of quarterback Landry Jones.
Jones was much more effective at home during the 2010 season - he had a 37-6 touchdown-to-interception ratio at home compared to 27-to-20 on the road. The team's first road test will be on September 17 at Florida State, with other notable road/neutral games including Texas on October 8, Baylor on November 19 and Oklahoma State on December 3.
Beyond The Top Spot
The Fighting Irish of Notre Dame made the largest jump of all teams inside the top 20, going from unranked and 36th in receiving votes to No. 18 in the preseason poll. Three other teams jumped 10 or more spots based on their final ranking from the previous season, including Texas A&M and Florida State, both of whom jumped into the top 10.
On the other hand, three of the final top five teams from the final coaches poll last season dropped by more than 10 spots. Auburn fell 18 spots down to 19th, the largest drop for any team. That's thanks in part to returning only three starters on each side of the ball. It is the lowest debut for a defending national champion since USA Today began administering the coaches' poll in 1991. Meanwhile Ohio State found itself 16th in the preseason poll and TCU sits 15th after finishing No. 2 last season.
Alabama, which picked up 13 first-place votes, comes in at No. 2 and will once again be relying heavily on the running game to stay there. The team lost starting running back and former Heisman Trophy-winner Mark Ingram to the NFL and will now turn to Trent Richardson to pick up where he left off.
Thankfully, Richardson proved himself to be effective last season - perhaps more effective than even Ingram himself. Richardson was superior to Ingram in his yards per rush figures from virtually every angle; rushing inside the tackles (Richardson' 5.0 to Ingram's 4.7), rushing outside the tackles (7.8 to 6.5) and even yards after contact (2.7 to 2.4).
After completing fewer than half of his passes that were thrown in the air 10 yards or more in 2009, LSU quarterback Jordan Jefferson's deep passes regressed even further in 2010.
Jefferson is going to have to improve his deep touch if the Tigers are going to overcome of the nation's toughest schedules.
That schedule features an opener against Oregon, trips to Alabama, West Virginia, Mississippi State and home dates against Florida, Arkansas and Auburn. In other words, it will be a challenge for the Tigers to remain in the top five all season long.
At the other end of the spectrum, the Big East failed to place a team in the preseason Top 25 for the second time in three seasons.
However, a lot can change between now and January - just ask defending champion Auburn as it was ranked No. 23 in the 2010 Preseason Coaches Poll.