The college football season is less than two months away. Right? As it approaches with question marks, our 12th annual countdown series of our preseason Top 25, as selected by the American-Statesman sports staff, breaks down who we think are the top teams in the country.
Last year’s eventual College Football Playoff semifinalists ranked first, fourth, fifth and sixth in our 2019 poll.
No. 5 Oklahoma
OU fans have enjoyed three glorious years in Norman under head coach Lincoln Riley. There were back-to-back Heisman Trophy winners and last year’s feel-good story in college football with Jalen Hurts. Oklahoma has won three Big 12 titles the last three years and has become a regular on the College Football Playoff stage. But this year looks to be more difficult. There is no obvious Heisman-caliber quarterback, at least not yet. The defense, which should be better than last season, still has room for improvement inside the 20-yard line. The Sooners should get the benefit of the doubt, though. And they have in most preseason Big 12 polls.
Oklahoma was ranked fourth in our preseason poll last year.
About the Sooners
2019: 12-2, 8-1 in the Big 12; beat Baylor in the Big 12 championship game and then lost 63-28 to LSU in the CFP semifinals
Coach: Lincoln Riley (36-6, all in three years at Oklahoma)
Returning starters: 8 offense, 8 defense
Shoes to fill: QB Jalen Hurts (Big 12 offensive newcomer of the year, 2nd round, Eagles); WR CeeDee Lamb (1st, Cowboys); WR Lee Morris; DL Neville Gallimore; LB Kenneth Murray (all-conference);
Defensive coordinator Alex Grinch made quite a first impression last season. Last year was the first time in the 24-year history of the Big 12 that Oklahoma led the conference in total offense (526.9 ypg) and total defense (330.6 ypg) in league play. The 1997 Nebraska squad was the first to accomplish that. A lot of that offense was driven by Hurts, a transfer quarterback from Alabama. Now OU has to rely on its home-grown, recruited talent. Tanner Mordecai was a four-star recruit who redshirted in 2018. Spencer Rattler was dynamic in his three brief appearances last season, preserving the freshman’s redshirt status. Kennedy Brooks and Charleston Rambo will get most of the offensive attention early, but OU needs a strong triggerman at the controls.
Passing: Tanner Mordecai (2nd on team), 16-26-207 yards, 2 TDs, 0 INTs; Spencer Rattler (3rd), 7-11-81 yards, 1 TD, 0 INTs
Rushing: Kennedy Brooks (2nd), 155-1,011-6; Rhamondre Stevenson (3rd), 64-515-6
Receiving: Charleston Rambo (2nd), 43-743-5
Tackles: S Delarrin Turner-Yell (2nd), 75; S Pat Fields (3rd), 64; LB DaShaun White (4th), 52
Sacks: DL Jalen Redmond (led team), 6.5; DE Ronnie Perkins (2nd), 6
Interceptions: DB Brendan Radley-Hiles (led team), 2
Offense: OL Creed Humphrey (co-offensive lineman of the year, 1st team); RB Kennedy Brooks (2nd team); WR Jeremiah Hall (2nd team); OL Adrian Early (2nd team)
Defense: DL LaRon Stokes (def. newcomer of the year); DL Ronnie Perkins (2nd team); S Pat Fields (hon. mention); DL Jalen Redmond (hon. mention); S Delarrin Turner-Yell (hon. mention); LB DaShaun White (hon. mention)
Special teams: K Gabe Brkic (2nd team); P Reeves Mundschau (hon. mention)
Six in a row: The Sooners are looking to win their sixth consecutive league title this season, something that would be an incredible accomplishment at a school with a long championship history. OU last won six straight league titles in the 1970s. Oklahoma is the only Power Five program to win six outright conference titles in a row (12 straight, from 1948-59). By comparison, Texas has won only three Big 12 titles in the 24-year history of the conference.
Young guns: Oklahoma’s defense tilts young. Seven of the Sooners’ top 10 tacklers last season were either freshmen or sophomores. Safeties Pat Fields and Delarrin Turner-Yell, defensive lineman Ronnie Perkins and linebacker Shaun White started all season while other first-year players like linebackers Nik Bonitto and David Ugwoegbu, defensive lineman Jalen Redmond and cornerback Jaden Davis all got starting experience somewhere along the way. It’s a unit that could be monstrous at some point.
Getting his kicks: For all the hullabaloo that Texas kicker Cameron Dicker received early in his career, OU’s Gabe Brkic is proving to be every bit as dependable. The Lou Groza Award semifinalist enters the season with a school-record 17 consecutive made field goals. Last year he became the first kicker in school history to make all his field goal attempts (17 for 17) and extra-point kicks (52 of 52) in a single season. His contributions are critical; OU ranked sixth nationally in scoring (42.1 ppg).
2019 national stat rankings
Where Oklahoma ranked nationally in various statistical categories last season — and how the Sooners ranked in 2018.
Scoring: 6th (2018 — 1st)
Scoring defense: 64th (101st)
Total offense: 3rd (1st)
Total defense: 38th (114th)
Passing: 18th (7th)
Pass defense: 58th (130th)
Rushing: 14th (11th)
Rush defense: 32nd (59th)
Red zone offense: 13th (9th)
Red zone defense: 128th (127th)
Turnover margin: 109th (81st)
Time of possession: 39th (90th)
Our Top 25 — so far
No. 5: Oklahoma Sooners
Our No. 4 team. Want a hint?
This school’s stadium is the second largest football stadium in the country, regardless of level. It seats 106,572.