Senior Writer

Will No. 1 Sooners win the BCS title? History suggests no


22, 5, 5, 2, 7. Add them up and they equal No. 1.

If you haven't figured it out yet, those are the AP preseason rankings of the last five national champions. In order since 2006, Florida (preseason No. 7), LSU (No. 2), Florida (No. 5), Alabama (No. 5) and Auburn (No. 22).

Sure, Auburn is the outlier. That's the lowest start for a national champion in the BCS era. Few of us saw that coming, but that's the point.

As you peruse's preseason top 25 below, be warned. The national champ usually comes from behind. Sometimes way behind. Oklahoma starts here as No. 1. Good luck with all that, Sooners. Only twice since 1945 has AP's national champion gone wire to wire.

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Four times since 2000, the AP champ has started no higher than 13th. The preseason No. 1 or No. 2 has won it only three times in that span. As long as humans are ranking humans, it's going to happen. It's the nature of the sport.

Yes, it helps to start in the top 10. Yeah, it helps to play in the SEC. But be on alert for the likes of Wisconsin and Stanford. Those are my No. 8 and No. 9 teams. That's the average of where the national champion has come from since 2000 -- between eighth and ninth.

There are good reasons to like the Sooners. Landry Jones is a Heisman contender. Ryan Broyles could become the NCAA career leader in receiving yards. Oklahoma plays the best defense in an offensive league. Bob Stoops, Joe Paterno and Mack Brown are the only active coaches at their schools for more than 10 years who own a national championship.

But if you believe in history, there's also a good chance to like JoePa. Penn State starts here at No. 22, same place as Auburn in AP last season.

The favorites

1. Oklahoma 2. Alabama 3. LSU 4. Oregon 5. Wisconsin 6. Florida State 7. Boise State 8. Virginia Tech

The discussion starts with the SEC's pursuit of a sixth consecutive title. There are worse bets than taking Alabama and LSU against the field right now in Vegas. The problem is only one team can win it. Oklahoma, with all that talent and minus a conference championship game, has the best chance. Even if it doesn't get past Florida State in Week 3, an 11-1 OU would still have title possibilities.

Beyond the Oklahoma-LSU-Alabama axis it's hard to make a huge championship case for the others. 'Bama and LSU play each other on Nov. 5, which might or might not eliminate one of the contenders. Oregon is going to drop like a stone in the polls if it loses to LSU in the opener. That would make it consecutive losses to SEC powers on the national stage. There is a huge challenge waiting Nov. 12 at Stanford. Remember, these are not quite the Ducks of 2010.

Florida State is rising but not there yet. Even if it beats Oklahoma, something tells me there is an ACC clunker out there (Clemson?). The addition of Russell Wilson makes Wisconsin the Big Ten favorite and a championship contender. A lot of folks are jumping on the Boise State bandwagon, but even if the Broncos beat Georgia there are still interesting trips to Fresno State and San Diego State. Don't forget TCU will have a huge issue when it comes to Boise on Nov. 12. What you've got to ask yourself is the same question as last November: Does an unbeaten Boise jump past a one-loss SEC or Oklahoma into the championship game?

Virginia Tech is sneaky good. It is the only team to win at least 10 games each of the last seven years. Logan Young looks ready to become a difference maker at quarterback. The Hokies will always run the ball and play defense. And they'll probably win the ACC for the fourth time in five years. James Madison isn't on the schedule, but Appalachian State is.

The contenders

9. Stanford 10. Texas A&M 11.Nebraska 12. Oklahoma State 13. TCU 14. Ohio State 15. Michigan State

Admit it, Stanfordsnuck up on you. The Cardinal won a total of 18 games the previous four years before winning 12 last season. They proved, at least in 2010, that Stanford football belonged in the SEC more than the Pac-10. It was physical, rugged, smashmouth. Under new coach David Shaw, the Cardinal will win at least 10 again this season. Andrew Luck figures to have a monster year after passing up the NFL draft.

Even with the loss of two-way star Owen Marecic, the Cardinal will continue to hit you in the mouth. Junior tailback Stepfan Taylor was the program's first sophomore to rush for 1,000 yards in 22 years.

Nothing much has changed for Texas A&M in the conference race. It is going to have to beat Oklahoma, Texas and Oklahoma State to get to the top. They've got the horses to do it, having missed pulling off the Big 12 hat trick last season by less than a touchdown. (They beat OU and Texas, and lost by three to Oklahoma State.) Quarterback Ryan Tannehill was on a tremendous run at the end of the season. The Aggies have both a 1,000-yard receiver (Jeff Fuller) and a 1,000-yard runner (Cyrus Gray). The season will hinge on getting past Oklahoma State early (Sept. 24) and OU and Texas in November.

Even if Okie State can win in College Station, it will have to improve a defense that finished 88th (115th against the pass). Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon will be fun to watch but will the Cowboys stop anyone? They gave up 51 to Nebraska and 47 to Oklahoma, at home.

If defense wins championships, Nebraska will fit easily into the Big Ten. The league's best D has to hope that Taylor Martinez regains the look of a Heisman contender that the quarterback had in the first half of 2010. TCU is definitely the second-best team in the Mountain West -- on paper. Gary Patterson would like to wad that up and throw it in your face. 2010's No. 2 team has a typically strong defense but the offense can't be as good as the (Andy) Dalton Gang, can it?

If the Buckeye Five were available, we'd be talking top-five -- as in ranking for Ohio State. You might have heard it was somewhat of a shaky offseason. Even without Terrelle Pryor for good and four other remaining players the first five games, the Buckeyes could win the Leaders Division and the Big Ten. Wisconsin should have a lot to say about that when it comes to The Shoe on Oct. 29.

Michigan State isn't new (like Nebraska), adding a quarterback (like Wisconsin) or headline fodder (like Ohio State). Quietly, Mark Dantonio has all the ingredients to get to the Rose Bowl in his fifth season in East Lansing.

The pretenders

16. South Carolina 17. Arkansas 18. West Virginia 19. Auburn 20. Georgia

South Carolina is one of my national championship dark horses. Marcus Lattimore and Alshon Jeffery are future pros. Freshman Jadeveon Clowney intends to shock the world as a force off the edge. Coach Superior's bunch will win the East handily, but nothing is guaranteed beyond that.

Arkansas is one of the reasons (hosting South Carolina on Nov. 5). The Hogs have been downgraded since the loss of tailback Knile Davis. Arkansas was an SEC West contender. Now? Third place seems more likely. Arkansas has to go to Alabama and LSU. An improved defense will have to be the difference in those huge road tests.

West Virginia is the runaway Big East favorite. Under Dana Holgorsen, don't be surprised if quarterback Geno Smith becomes a Heisman candidate. There's not a Heisman winner in sight at Auburn but there are worse things to do in the SEC than run the ball and play defense. Gene Chizik will lean on sophomore Michael Dyer (1,000-yard rusher as a freshman) and go 8-4, give or take.

There is an unholy fascination with Georgia by everyone but me, it seems. Mark Richt is under pressure. He has recruited well, but faces perhaps a career-altering first two weeks against Boise State and South Carolina. He will have to win both to get back in the national consciousness.

Just happy to be there

21. Notre Dame 22. Mississippi State 23. Penn State 24. Missouri 25. Florida

Notre Dame has its highest preseason ranking since 2006. Only once since 2003 has it finished the season higher in the rankings than where it started (in AP). No matter what happens, Brian Kelly's offense should take off because that's what the coach does. He makes quarterbacks and scores points.

How strong is the SEC? Mississippi State finished fifth in the West last season, won nine games and destroyed Michigan by five touchdowns in the bowl game. Dan Mullen is considered a coaching superstar of the future. Maybe, but it won't be in Starkville when he realizes the Bulldogs have won more than eight games only twice since 1980.

Penn State continues to be a force of nature with the 84-year-old Paterno gaining a second wind. Given that, how are the Nittany Lions not in the Legends Division. We'll know if they are going to compete in the Leaders Division if they beat Alabama on Sept. 10.

Missouri and Texas will battle for the fourth and fifth spots in the new 10-team Big 12. The difference being, that's a legitimate prize for the Tigers who have won 40 games over the last four years. Orangebloods expect to contend for the conference title each year. It won't happen this season. There is too much for Mack Brown to fix in one season after finishing 5-7.

Brown's former defensive coordinator, Will Muschamp, takes over the Gators. There are worse situations to inherit. Still, there is a long way to go before Florida is contending for national championships. The Gators haven't been able to run between the tackles since Tim Tebow. If Charlie Weis can't improve John Brantley, it's going to be a long season. There is simply too much for Muschamp, the fifth rookie head coach on this list, to overcome to be a factor in the SEC.

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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