Sure, it’s July. But it’s never too early to talk college football. Here’s your daily fix — our annual countdown of the preseason Top 25, as selected by the American-Statesman sports staff. Last year’s eventual CFP semifinalists were ranked Nos. 1, 5, 8 and 14 on our 2017 list.
Our Top 25 — so far:
Today’s team: No. 8 Oklahoma
The Sooners’ best-case scenario: The Sooners are looking to become the first program to win four straight Big 12 titles. The only way that happens is if QB Kyler Murray takes the league by storm, turning Heisman winner Baker Mayfield into an afterthought. It’s going to take championship-level defense from the beginning, too.
Their worst-case scenario: OU’s deep running back room suffers injuries, leading to fits and starts with the running game. This is the only way Murray, or whoever starts at quarterback, can get protection. Rodney Anderson, Trey Sermon and Marcellias Sutton must lead the way or a season full of promise can turn mediocre quickly.
Inside the Sooners
Coach: Lincoln Riley (second year, 12-2)
2017: 12-2, 8-1 in the Big 12 (lost in overtime to Georgia 54-48 in the CFP semifinals)
Returning starters: 6 offense, 6 defense
Goodbye: QB Baker Mayfield (1st, Browns); OT Orlando Brown (3rd, Ravens); TE Mark Andrews (3rd, Ravens); LB Ogbonnia Okoronkwo (5th, Rams)
Spring cleaning: For all the hyperventilating about Murray, he didn’t go through spring drills. Murray was toiling for the OU baseball team. Sophomore Austin Kendall got most of the gridiron work and might have the upper hand early in fall camp. “Austin is a great pocket passer, very, very smooth, he’s really good with his progressions,” Riley said. “He has really progressed in a lot of ways there and he’s a sneaky good athlete.”
PASSING: Kyler Murray, 18-21-359, 3/0 (2nd)
RUSHING: Rodney Anderson, 188-1,161-13 (1st); Trey Sermon, 121-744-5 (2nd)
RECEIVING: Marquise Brown, 57-1,095-7 (2nd); CeeDee Lamb, 46-807-7 (3rd)
TACKLES: LB Kenneth Murray, 78 (2nd), CB Parnell Motley, 63 (5th)
SACKS: DL Kenneth Mann, 5 (2nd)
INTERCEPTIONS: CB Parnell Motley, 2 (T-1st)
Returning All-Big 12 players (4)
Offense: OG Ben Powers (1st team); RB Rodney Anderson (2nd); OG Dru Samia (2nd)
Special teams: K Austin Seibert (2nd)
Revamping the O-line: The Sooners have a ton of athleticism, to be sure, but not a lot of experience, something Riley harped on at Big 12 media days. “Should be an entertaining season,” he said. While quarterback will get a lot of attention, don’t overlook the rebuilt offensive line. Losing center Erik Wren may have been just as important as losing Brown, perhaps the best left tackle in the country.
Ready for an encore season: LB Kenneth Murray started 14 games last season as a freshman. That’s an incredible workload for a young player at a high-profile school like OU. The freshman All-American is ready for more. “We’re hungry,” Murray said at Big 12 media days. “That’s one word to describe our defense. That’s our mentality.” OU had the third-best passing defense last season and was fifth in scoring defense (27.1).
Getting defensive: During the boring summer months, it’s easy for a story to spin out of control. That’s what happened when Riley casually suggested that Georgia wouldn’t have a top-five defense in the Big 12. “My comment had nothing to do about Georgia specifically and everything to do with the Big 12 and the quality of offenses in this league,” Riley clarified at Big 12 media days. He’s right; Georgia likely wouldn’t have a top-five defense in a league where six teams averaged more than 30 points per game last season.
2017 national rankings
Scoring: 3rd (45.1 ppg) — right above state rival Oklahoma State at No. 4, right behind No. 2 Memphis
Points allowed: 68th (27.1 ppg) — right above No. 69 Florida, right behind No. 67 Utah State
Passing: 3rd (361.8 ypg) — sandwiched between two Pac-12 schools, right above No. 4 UCLA and right behind No. 2 Washington State
Rushing: 27th (217.8 ypg) — sandwiched between two SEC schools, right above No. 28 LSU, right behind No. 26 Auburn
Total offense: 1st (579.6 ypg) — topped the nation, nearly 11 yards better than rival No. 2 Oklahoma State
Total defense: 67th (394.9 ypg) — right above No. 68 USC, right behind No. 66 Air Force
|DATE||OPPONENT||LAST YR'S RESULT (IF PLAYED)|
|Sept. 1 (11 a.m., Fox)||Florida Atlantic|
|Sept. 8 (noon, Fox)||UCLA|
|Sept. 15 (11 a.m.)||at Iowa State*||L, 38-31 in Ames|
|Sept. 29||Baylor*||W, 49-41 in Waco|
|Oct. 6||Texas*||W, 29-24 in Dallas|
|Oct. 20||at TCU*||W, 29-24 in Norman|
|Oct. 27||Kansas State*||W, 42-35 in Manhattan|
|Nov. 3||at Texas Tech*||W, 49-27 in Norman|
|Nov. 10||Oklahoma State*||W, 62-52 in Stillwater|
|Nov. 17||Kansas*||W, 41-3 in Lawrence|
|Nov. 23 (7 p.m., ESPN)||at West Virginia*||W, 59-31 in Norman|
|* Big 12 game|
Note: Oklahoma-Texas is at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas; Oklahoma beat TCU again in the Big 12 championship game, 41-17
The key game: Oct. 6, Texas. It’s possible the Sooners show up in Dallas with a 5-0 record. They’ll be looking to ruin whatever momentum the Longhorns have at that point. Perhaps the two will meet again in the Big 12 title game in December.
The last 5 years
|YEAR||W-L (CONF.)||RANKINGS||BOWL, RESULT|
|2013||11-2 (7-2)||16th / 6th||Sugar, W|
|2014||8-5 (5-4)||4th / —||Russell Athletic, L|
|2015||11-2 (8-1)||19th / 5th||CFP semifinals, L|
|2016||11-2 (9-0)||3rd / 5th||Sugar, W|
|2017||12-2 (7-1)||7th / 3rd||CFP semifinals, L|
|Total||53-13 (36-8 Big 12)||2-3 in bowls|
Note: Ranks are that year’s preseason/final ranking
Our Top 25, by conferences
Big 12 — No. 8 Oklahoma, No. 15 TCU, No. 19 West Virginia, No. 25 Texas
SEC — No. 9 Auburn, No. 17 Mississippi State, No. 24 LSU
Big Ten — No. 10 Penn State, No. 11 Michigan State, No. 12 Michigan
Pac-12 — No. 14 Stanford, No. 20 USC, No. 23 Oregon
ACC — No. 16 Virginia Tech, No. 21 Florida State
Independents — No. 13 Notre Dame
Mountain West — No. 18 Boise State
AAC — No. 22 Central Florida
Coming tomorrow: Our No. 7 team
Want a hint?
This school’s head coach was once Bobby Bowden’s offensive coordinator at Florida State.