The Oklahoma Sooners are wait to run onto the field prior to the 2018 College Football Playoff Semifinal Game against the Georgia Bulldogs at the Rose Bowl Game presented by Northwestern Mutual at the Rose Bowl on January 1, 2018 in Pasadena, California. The Sooners, who have won three straight Big 12 championships, can become the first league team to win four in a row this season. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

Football

Our 10th annual Top 25 countdown: Can you say fourpeat? No. 8 Oklahoma eyes Big 12 supremacy

Sure, Baker Mayfield is now in the NFL. But the Sooners have a shot at doing what no one's been able to yet in this league.

Posted July 21st, 2018

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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:

No. 25: Texas is building — but are we there yet, are we there yet?

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No. 24: LSU has a tough schedule, questions at key spots

No. 23: Oregon welcomes a new coach — again and again and again

No. 22: Central Florida is out to go unbeaten (ahem, again)

No. 21: There’s a new coach, offense and direction for Florida State

No. 20: Their big names gone, USC is reloading … or is that rebuilding?

No. 19: For West Virginia, when there’s a Will there’s a way

No. 18: For Boise State, the Mountain West sky is the limit

No. 17: Mississippi State is breaking in a new head coach

No.16: Virginia Tech’s chances hinge on an up-and-down quarterback

No. 15: TCU has been the model of consistency, but there are 2018 concerns

No. 14: Love is all you need, at least if you’re talking about Stanford’s Bryce Love

No. 13: Notre Dame is on the brink of a real springboard season

No. 12: Michigan has said goodbye to John O’Korn, hello to Shea Patterson

No. 11: With just about everyone back, Michigan State looks for a 2017 encore

No. 10: Penn State bids goodbye to Saquon Barkley, but Trace McSorley’s still there

No. 9: Talented Auburn should be considered a CFP possibility coming out of the SEC

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.

RELATED COVERAGE: Why Lincoln Riley has to play his QB situation close to the vest

RELATED COVERAGE: Nine months later, that loss to Iowa State stings just a little less

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.”

Sam Ehlinger (11) of the Texas Longhorns is tackled by Kenneth Murray (9) of the Oklahoma Sooners near the Texas sideline in the fourth quarter at Cotton Bowl on October 14, 2017 in Dallas, Texas. Oklahoma beat Texas 29-24. Murray was second on the team last year in tackles and sacks, earning freshman All-American honors. (Photo by Richard W. Rodriguez/Getty Images)

Returning leaders

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)

Defense: None

Special teams: K Austin Seibert (2nd)

FYI

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

The Sooner Schooner is seen before the Oklahoma Sooners take on the Georgia Bulldogs in the 2018 College Football Playoff Semifinal at the Rose Bowl Game presented by Northwestern Mutual at the Rose Bowl on January 1, 2018 in Pasadena, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

The schedule

DATEOPPONENTLAST 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. 22Army
Sept. 29Baylor*W, 49-41 in Waco
Oct. 6Texas*W, 29-24 in Dallas
Oct. 20at TCU*W, 29-24 in Norman
Oct. 27Kansas State*W, 42-35 in Manhattan
Nov. 3at Texas Tech*W, 49-27 in Norman
Nov. 10Oklahoma State*W, 62-52 in Stillwater
Nov. 17Kansas*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

YEARW-L (CONF.)RANKINGSBOWL, RESULT
201311-2 (7-2)16th / 6thSugar, W
20148-5 (5-4)4th / —Russell Athletic, L
201511-2 (8-1)19th / 5thCFP semifinals, L
201611-2 (9-0)3rd / 5thSugar, W
201712-2 (7-1)7th / 3rdCFP semifinals, L
Total53-13 (36-8 Big 12)2-3 in bowls

Note: Ranks are that year’s preseason/final ranking

Our Top 25, by conferences

4 schools:

Big 12 — No. 8 Oklahoma, No. 15 TCU, No. 19 West Virginia, No. 25 Texas

3 schools:

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

2 schools:

ACC — No. 16 Virginia Tech, No. 21 Florida State

1 school:

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.

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