Oklahoma is team to beat this season

History, experience schedule all in Sooners' favor

August 30, 2011|By Matt Murschel, Tribune Newspapers

It's hard to argue with results.

The Southeastern Conference has won five straight Bowl Championship Series titles and clearly is the most dominant conference in college football.

So it would make perfect sense that my prediction for this year's BCS national champion is … Oklahoma?

Yes, Oklahoma.

The same Oklahoma that last won a national title a decade ago and just snapped a string of five straight BCS bowl losses last season.

That Oklahoma.

Now, before you question my sanity, hear me out:

History

Like I mentioned earlier, the Sooners last won a BCS national championship in 2001, when they beat Florida State, 13-2.

However, the Sooners have a pretty good history with the BCS title game. In fact, OU has played in four different titles games since the inception of the BCS in 1998 — the most by any school. Florida State and Ohio State are second with three appearances apiece.

Not to mention, that in the past decade, the Sooners have gone to eight BCS bowl games.

Oklahoma – and in part head coach Bob Stoops – know what it takes to get the title game. For the program and its fans, it's a all-or-nothing approach when it comes to the national title.

Experience

Year-in and year-out, it seems Oklahoma is loaded with tons of talent and this season is no different.

The Sooners return 16 starters from a team that won 12 games last season including the Big 12 Conference title as well as the Fiesta Bowl.

It starts at the top with quarterback Landry Jones, who is one of three quarterbacks in the nation to throw for over 4,000 yards last season. His main target – All-American wide receiver Ryan Broyles –returns for his senior season. The Oklahoma native had 1,622 yards receiving last season.

On defense, linebacker Travis Lewis will be a force despite missing a few weeks with a broken bone in his foot. Lewis led the team with 109 tackles last season.

Running back DeMarco Murray is gone but as Stoops has proven time and time again that he can develop talented rushers. Keep an eye on Roy Finch, Brennan Clay and freshman Brandon Williams.

Schedule

If you look at Oklahoma's schedule, three games stand out as possible road blocks on the way to New Orleans: at No. 5 Florida State (Sept. 17), No. 9 Texas A&M (Nov. 5), and at No. 8 Oklahoma State (Dec. 3).

A rematch with the Seminoles would be the first big hurdle to clear and would be the first of four teams ranked in the preseason that the Sooners will face this season.

With the loss of Colorado and Nebraska, the Big 12 Conference no longer has a championship game. That means one less chance to lose a game before bowl season.

Underdog

This one is just for the sentimentalists in the audience.

Everyone roots for the underdog. Yes, it's great that the SEC has shown its dominance in college football but as the streak continues, more and more fans will want to see someone else step forward and topple the Big Dog.

mmurschel@tribune.com.

Read his blog at OrlandoSentinel.com/collegegridiron365.

Five games to watch

Boise State vs. Georgia (Sept. 3 at Georgia Dome): This matchup features a great battle of quarterbacks with possible Heisman Trophy aspirations: Kellen Moore and Aaron Murray. Moore was a finalist last season and could be one this year while Murray could be one in the near future.

Oregon vs. LSU (Sept. 3 at Cowboys Stadium): The Ducks' explosive offense returns with Heisman Trophy finalist LaMichael James back for another season. LSU returns seven starters from a defensive squad that ranked in the top 25 last season.

Oklahoma at Florida State (Sept. 17 at Doak Campbell Stadium): This third week matchup against what could be a top-ranked Sooners team will determine just how for real the Seminoles really are. A victory by FSU could be the springboard for a great season and set the table for a spot in the BCS.

LSU at Alabama (Nov. 5 at Bryant-Denny Stadium): Both teams will have early season challenges, however if both make it to this point unscathed, it could be a great battle between two top ten teams. The winner could gain control of the SEC West and set up another shot at a BCS National Championship.

Oregon at Stanford (Nov. 12 at Stanford Stadium): After last season's 52-31 Oregon victory in Eugene, what can these two programs do for an encore? This one will feature two of the finalist for last year's Heisman Trophy with Stanford QB Andrew Luck and Oregon RB LaMichael James. The winner of this one should grab control of the Pac-12's new North Division as well as a spot in a BCS bowl game.

Five Heisman Trophy candidates

Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford: Luck was one of, if not, the best quarterback in the country last season. He threw for 3,338 yards and 32 touchdowns to lead the Cardinal to one of its best seasons ever, a 12-1 record and an impressive win over Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl.

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