Senior Writer

Post-spring Top 25: Never too soon to anoint Sooners


It seems like Oklahoma is always No. 1 at something.

Speedy Roy Finch replaces DeMarco Murray at running back. (US Presswire)  
Speedy Roy Finch replaces DeMarco Murray at running back. (US Presswire)  
It has won more Big 12 titles than any school by a large margin -- seven of the 15 in the conference's existence. No program has been No. 1 in the BCS more times (20). The Sooners led the country averaging 87 plays per game in 2010. The nation's best current quarterback factory arguably resides in Norman -- OU has pumped out two Heisman winners since 2003. Four times since 2000 Oklahoma quarterbacks have been Heisman finalists. No team has played in more BCS title games.

But only once in the BCS era (since 1998) has Oklahoma started the season No. 1. That was eight years ago in 2003. It just seems like there have been more preseason No. 1s for the Sooners. Usually offseason/preseason polls aren't worth the computer files they occupy. Auburn started 22nd in AP's preseason poll. Oklahoma was 19th to start 2000, the year of its last title. Going wire to wire just doesn't happen that often.

Not that OU linebacker Travis Lewis cares. Earlier this year he was picking up on the vibe that in some poll or another the Sooners are going to start the 2011 season on top.

"I think it's deserved," Lewis said.

Here in early May -- the dead calm of college football's offseason -- I can't disagree. Oklahoma is No. 1 in the post-spring Top 25. There were some interesting stories during the spring. Ohio State continues to be surrounded by the NCAA posse. The BCS came under further attack. The tornadoes in Tuscaloosa were tragic. It was good news in Norman that almost nothing changed. Landry Jones still looks like OU's next Heisman finalist at quarterback. Ryan Broyles still is arguably the nation's best receiver. The loss of DeMarco Murray at tailback could give rise to the ultra-fast Roy Finch. Lewis has led the Sooners in tackles three times.

In short, things look so bright it's hard to pick against Oklahoma at this point. The Sooners are that loaded. Bob Stoops is coming off a calming BCS bowl win against Connecticut. Meanwhile, LSU still has quarterback issues. Oregon has to replace a lot on defense. Stanford lost its coach. Auburn doesn't look so Newtonian.

Yeah it's early. The NFL and its players can't figure out how to divide $9 billion in revenue. The NBA playoffs still have something like four months to run. Baseball is just getting started. What's hot in May can be vulnerable in August. The point is there is time if you don't agree with what you see below. Keep watching this space. The Top 25 will be updated during the offseason. Until then, Oklahoma continues to be No. 1 at something.

1. Oklahoma: Last August, Stoops told his freshman class it had the potential to be the best he ever had at OU. Kenny Stills then caught 61 passes as a freshman. Linebacker Tony Jefferson was the Big 12 Co-Defensive Newcomer of the Year. That 2010 recruit class is maturing before our eyes at the right time. 2011 MVP: Broyles. Previous rank: 2

2. Alabama: The defense is at the 2009 level. It really doesn't matter who plays quarterback. Trent Richardson will make enough plays and the offensive line will keep A.J. McCarron/Phillip Sims clean. 2011 MVP: Dont'a Hightower. Previous rank: 4

3. LSU: A still-shaky Jordan Jefferson and the season's biggest game being at Alabama are keeping the Tigers from staying at No. 1 at this point. 2011 MVP: Spencer Ware. Previous rank: 1

4. Oregon: The Ducks are getting ready to go on a USC-like run in dominating the Pac-10/Pac-12. Chip Kelly's biggest challenge will be replacing those key defenders and keeping the Willie Lyles thing from mushrooming. 2011 MVP: LaMichael James. Previous rank: 3

5. Stanford: The Cardinal are still tougher than you think on both sides of the ball. New coach David Shaw gets the luxury of starting what would have been a No. 1 NFL Draft choice at quarterback. 2011 MVP: Duh, Andrew Luck. Previous rank: 5

6. Oklahoma State: Below Oklahoma, Okie State and Texas A&M will battle it out in the reconfigured Big 12. The Cowboys have the slight advantage for now because Brandon Weeden came back to throw to Justin Blackmon. 2011 MVP: Weeden. Previous rank: 7

7. Texas A&M: Mike Sherman doubters are now being rounded up by Aggie cadets and forced to kiss their dates -- even if they don't have dates! Hilarity ensues as defenses try to stop one of the most explosive offenses in the nation. 2011 MVP: Jeff Fuller. Previous rank: 8

8. Florida State: Figure on a second consecutive 10-win season (at least) and an ACC title. After a long wait, the 'Noles emerge again on the national stage. 2011 MVP: Brandon Jenkins. Previous rank: 11

9. Ohio State: Since the Bucks' best players will play slightly more than half the season, it's up to the interim head coach to hold the program together. The amazing thing is there is still enough talent to win the Big Ten and contend for a national title. 2011 MVC(oach): Luke Fickell. Previous rank: 6

10. Nebraska: 2011 If quarterback Taylor Martinez stays consistent and upright, the Huskers could win their first conference title in 12 years and their first in the Big Ten. 2011 MVP: Lavonte David (school-record 152 tackles). Previous rank: 14

11. Michigan State: Eleven wins and a shared Big Ten title while enduring Mark Dantonio's heart attack showed the Spartans are mentally strong. They aren't bad physically either. Watch for a battle with Nebraska for the Legends Division title. 2011 MVP: Kirk Cousins. Previous rank: 9

12. Wisconsin: Why can't the Badgers find a difference-maker at quarterback? Scott Tolzien seems soooo 2010. Tailback James White should run for at least 1,500 yards behind the usual group of road-graders. 2011 MVP: White. Previous rank: 10

13. Arkansas: Lose Ryan Mallett and get better? Could happen to the Hogs, who have a legit running threat in Knile Davis (4.29 40 during the spring) and what looks like an improved defense. 2011 MVP: Davis. Previous rank: 12

14. Boise State: I'd like to formally welcome the Broncos to Division I-A after the program was accused of major violations by the NCAA. Boise will win in a new conference (Mountain West) and underappreciated Kellen Moore will make himself a steal in the 2012 draft. 2011 MVP: Moore. Previous rank: 13

15. Auburn: For now, the 2010 championship still counts. Forever, Cam Newton is gone. That's the biggest difference in the 2011 Tigers. There will be a lot of payback waiting in the SEC but Auburn will still be dangerous. 2011 MVP: Michael Dyer. Previous rank: 15

16. TCU: After a Rose Bowl win, Gary Patterson won't let the Frogs slip too much. Watch surprising Casey Pachall take the place of Andy Dalton at quarterback. 2011 MVP: Tank Carder. Previous rank: 16

17. Virginia Tech: The Hokies run the ball, play defense and usually have the best special teams in the nation. Add to the mix quarterback Logan Thomas, who is already being compared to a certain Heisman winner from Auburn. Yes, it's altogether possible to under rate the Hokies. Again. 2011 MVP: Thomas. Previous rank: 18

18. South Carolina: Doesn't everybody deserve a fifth chance? That's what Stephen Garcia is getting from Steve Spurrier. Hey, it's the SEC. They don't ask how many suspensions, they ask how many wins. 2011 MVP: Alshon Jeffrey. Previous rank: 17

19. Notre Dame: An impressive Sun Bowl win over Miami and the return of 17 starters (if you include Michael Floyd) make this the best Irish team since Charlie Weis took Notre Dame to the Sugar Bowl in 2006. Team speed remains an issue. 2011 MVP: Floyd. Previous rank: 19

20. Mississippi State: It's still hard to believe the Dawgs won nine in a division that includes Auburn, Alabama and Arkansas. It will be hard to duplicate that number next season. 2011 MVP: Vick Ballard. Previous rank: 20.

21. Arizona State: Twenty-four Sun Devils started at least five games in 2010. In a down Pac-12, Arizona State may make up one-half of the conference's first championship game. 2011 MVP: Vontaze Burfict. Previous rank: 22

22. Utah: Yes, there are too many holes on defense. No, there will not be a BCS bowl this season. But the Utes won't slip far. Kyle Whittingham's worst record is 7-5 in 2005, his first after replacing Urban Meyer. 2011 MVP: Jordan Wynn. Previous rank: NR

23. Georgia: Mark Richt continues to recruit good players who may or may not improve while at Georgia. There is a tinge of optimism in '11 with the return of an experienced quarterback (Aaron Murray). Watch out for disaster, though, if the Dawgs lose to Boise and South Carolina to open the season. 2011 MVP: Murray. Previous rank: 21

24. West Virginia: Can anyone say, "Awkward"? The offensive coordinator, Dana Holgorsen, will succeed the head coach, Bill Stewart, in 2012. That's already been decided. What hasn't been is how the Mountaineers rebound from the loss of tailback Noel Devine and receiver Jock Sanders. Holgorsen tends to make big stars of his skill players. 2011 MVP: Geno Smith. Previous rank: NR

25. Florida: In a transition year for Gator football, Will Muschamp will keep Florida on the right side of .500 but not much more than that. 2011 MVP: Ronald Powell. Previous rank: T-25

Anyone in need of a credential from all the BCS title games? Dennis Dodd has them. In three decades in the business, he's covered everything from the Olympics to Stanley Cup to conference realignment. Just get him on campus in a press box in the fall. His heart lies with college football.

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