Commentary

Can Sooners survive preseason hype?

Originally Published: August 20, 2011
By Mark Schlabach | ESPN.com

The Oklahoma Sooners will start the 2011 college football season ranked No. 1 in both major polls.

[+] EnlargeBob Stoops
Aaron M. Sprecher/Getty ImagesCan Bob Stoops' Sooners squad go wire-to-wire as the nation's top team this season?

Recent history suggests the Sooners won't finish there after the Jan. 9 Allstate BCS National Championship Game in New Orleans.

The Sooners, who went 12-2 and won a Big 12 championship last season, received 36 of 60 first-place votes in the Associated Press Top 25 poll released Saturday. Oklahoma was a more overwhelming choice in the USA Today coaches' poll released earlier this month, hauling in 42 of 59 first-place votes.

The Sooners, who bring back eight starters on offense and seven on defense, open the season against Tulsa on Sept. 3.

"If we're the No. 1 team in the country, we need to play like the No. 1 team in the country," said Sooners quarterback Landry Jones.

Is a No. 1 ranking a curse or a blessing for the Sooners?

In the last 10 seasons, only one team ranked No. 1 in the preseason -- Southern California in 2004 -- finished a season ranked No. 1. Of course, the Trojans were forced to vacate their '04 BCS national championship because of NCAA rules violations committed by former star tailback Reggie Bush.

Five years before USC started and finished a season No. 1, the 1999 Florida State Seminoles became the first team to go wire-to-wire as the No. 1 team in the AP Top 25 poll.

Other recent No. 1 teams in the preseason AP poll have buckled under pressure. Alabama was No. 1 in 2010 but finished No. 10. Georgia was No. 1 in 2008 but finished No. 13.

The average final ranking for a preseason No. 1 team over the last 10 seasons was 4.2.

The average preseason ranking for the last 10 BCS national champions (including the '04 Trojans) was 6.7.

The Sooners are followed by No. 2 Alabama, No. 3 Oregon, No. 4 LSU and No. 5 Boise State in the preseason AP poll.

Defending BCS national champion Auburn, which went 14-0 last season but lost Heisman Trophy winner Cameron Newton and a plethora of other starters, is ranked No. 23.

The Crimson Tide hopes to deliver the SEC its sixth consecutive BCS national championship. Alabama and LSU are joined by six other SEC teams in the preseason poll: No. 12 South Carolina, No. 15 Arkansas, No. 19 Georgia, No. 20 Mississippi State, No. 22 Florida and Auburn.

"I think our guys don't wear rankings as a tag or a weight," LSU coach Les Miles said. "I think they understand it's not something that's been earned; that in fact they're going to have to finish a season to end up where they want."

For the first week of the season, at least, the Sooners will be carrying the most weight in college football.

Mark Schlabach covers college sports for ESPN.com. You can contact him at schlabachma@yahoo.com.

Mark Schlabach | email

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