As we prepare for the start of the 2011 season our panel of joltleft.com college football writers are sharing their opinions on some national topics of interest. We already shared our power rankings to give you an idea of what teams we are liking as the season dawns, and to the surprise of perhaps nobody the Oklahoma Sooners topped our preseason ranking after receiving every first-place vote.
So the question may be simple. Is Oklahoma worth the hype?
Oklahoma has been voted number one by the coaches, media, FWAA [and our power rankings] and is being pegged as a BCS championship team. But they were also supposed to be one last year too at some point. So tell us why Oklahoma will or will not come through and live up to the expectations this season.
Sean Jackson, Ohio State Buckeyes Examiner: It’s easy to see why so many picked them as a favorite. Their offense will be explosive and will be difficult to stop. The development of their defense, primarily their rush defense, will be the key to their season. Even with several showdowns awaiting them, they should make the title game. Their defense will determine whether they win it.
Schimri Yoyo, Big East Examiner: The pros for Oklahoma are the following: An experienced offense led by Heisman hopefuls, QB Landry Jones and WR Ryan Broyles as well as a formidable offensive line. Also, the Sooners should benefit from a weaker Big 12 with Nebraska leaving for Big Ten and with Texas looking like they’re a year away from being a serious National Championship contender. Sorry, I’m not buying Texas A &M or Oklahoma State, been burned by them before. They’ll be good programs, but overall the rest of the Big 12 looks pretty week.
The cons against Oklahoma are history and the injury to leading tackler, LB Travis Lewis. Only three times since 1986 has the preseason No. 1 finished the year that way (1993 Florida State, 1999 Florida State, 2004 USC). The last time the Sooners started and finished the year as the top team was 1985. Also, the loss of Lewis is going to make the September 17 showdown at Florida State a potential BCS-buster if the Sooners’ D gets steamrolled.
Troy Hyde, Iowa Hawkeyes Examiner: Being the preseason No. 1 is always a challenging spot to be in because if you don’t finish the season No. 1 then it is perceived you had a failed season. Not the case in my opinion. To me, any of the top five ranked teams in the country are “favorites” to win the title, but then there is always that one team that emerges that no one predicted. I would have voted Alabama No. 1 myself because they seem to live up to the expectations better than Oklahoma. I like both teams so either way I am not upset at the placements. Oklahoma needs to worry first and foremost about the conference title and if that happens, they likely will be in the title hunt anyway. I am not sure any team goes undefeated this season so one loss may not even be enough to push them back. The Sooners have all the tools to be the best team in college football. But so do four or five other programs this season. So what I am trying to say is that expectations are going to vary from expert to expert. My take on this is that if Oklahoma ends up in the title game I won’t be surprised. However, college football is a fun and tricky game so one bad outing could hurt them. That still doesn’t mean they did not live up to expectations though.
Rich Kurtzman, Colorado State Rams Examiner: Oklahoma, being one of the premier football schools in the nation, is used to having huge expectations, and this year is no different. Sure, they didn’t live up to the hype last year, but that can likely be chalked up to a learning experience. The biggest reason OU will make it far this season is their quarterback Landry Jones. Jones enjoyed an absolutely massive season last year, with over 4,700 yards passing and 38 TDs. His rating was nearly perfect in 2010, and that was in his sophomore season. There’s no reason why Jones can’t continue to improve and, in turn, improve his team as well. Still, with massive matchups against #6 FSU, #21 Missouri and #8 Texas A&M, it will be incredibly difficult for OU to go undefeated and they may end up missing out on a BCS championship game once again.
Stephen Francis, Dallas Sports Examiner: The Sooners are a pretty stacked team, and on top of that, they didn’t lose very much from last season – 15 returning offensive starters and 14 returning defensive starters. In fact, according to the Sooner media guide, the returning offense accounts for 74.2 % of the receiving yards from 2010. What this means is, the Sooners will be one of the most experienced teams in Division I, correction, FBS football this year.
Junior Landry Jones begins his third season as the starting OU signal-caller (Thanks to the injury of Sam Bradford in 2009) and was last year’s Sammy Baugh Award winner. In his short time as the starting QB, Jones has already topped seven Oklahoma passing records and could build on that with at least 14 still ready for the taking from Jones. Expect to see him making an appearance in New York City come mid-December.
Senior wide receiver Ryan Broyles, who caught 131 passes for 1,622 yards and 14 touchdowns in 2010, returns and will no doubt remain Jones’ favorite target this year. Despite their run-oriented history, this will be a gun-slinging team and Stoops has the tools at his disposal to pull it off. Because of the deep passing game and play-making ability, they will put a lot of points on the board and tally a slew of yards quickly.
The loss of running back DeMarco Murray could impact the running game a little bit, but Stoops has a history of good, formidable runners to carry the load and keep the opposing defenses honest. Sophomores Brennan Clay and Jonathan Miller will likely split a majority of the carries. Stoops will likely pass first this year and then run just often enough to delay blitzes.
Defensively, the Sooners look just as potent. The biggest loss is at defensive end, where they will fill the void left by Jeremy Beal, who is now in the NFL with the Denver Broncos. Look for linebacker Travis Lewis to step up in 2011 as the backbone of the Oklahoma defense.
In short, 14-0 is not only a possibility, but an expectation in Norman.