Oklahoma football: Loss of offensive linemen does not impact Sooners' ranking
NORMAN, Aug 20, 2012 (The Oklahoman - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
The loss of one starting cornerback cost LSU the No. 1 ranking in The Associated Press preseason poll.
The loss of two offensive linemen, though, didn't keep Oklahoma from being ranked fourth.
Heck, one voter even ranked the Sooners No. 1 after seniors Ben Habern and Tyler Evans, with 59 career starts between them, were each lost for the season before it even started.
The coaches' poll was released Aug. 2, one day after Habern's career ended due to lingering back and neck problems, and one day before Evans tore his ACL on the first day of fall camp. OU was ranked No. 4 in that poll, also.
Before 2011 Heisman Trophy finalist Tyrann Mathieu was kicked off LSU's team a week ago, the Tigers had received 28 of a possible 60 first-place votes in the AP poll. But AP extended its voting deadline after Mathieu's dismissal, and when the final poll was released, LSU had dropped to third and lost 12 first-place votes.
The AP poll does not factor into the BCS Standings, which determine the national championship game matchup. The coaches' and Harris Interactive polls make up the human element in those standings.
So what can we make of OU's top-5 ranking, even after such significant losses on the offensive line The Sooners did, of course, add Penn State refugee Justin Brown to its receiver corps, which has bolstered a unit one considered shaky because of suspensions (Jaz Reynolds and Trey Franks) and Kameel Jackson's dismissal.
Kyle Meinke of AnnArbor.com, who represents OU's only No. 1 vote, said he did consider dropping the Sooners from his top spot after the offensive line injuries, but that the overall number of returning starters, a favorable schedule and team balance is why he still likes OU.
"I really don't like preseason polls; they are basically paper football," Meinke said in a telephone interview. "Picking between USC, LSU and Oklahoma was like splitting hairs."
Meinke said he mulled over his pick for a couple of weeks, but that OU's first nine games are all very winnable, and that by the time the Sooners get to West Virginia, Oklahoma State and TCU, the now-inexperienced offensive line should be up to speed.
Brandon Marcello, who covers Mississippi State football for the Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Miss., said in a telephone interview that he actually dropped the Sooners from fourth to fifth before submitting his final preseason ballot. He's also one of the 16 voters who kept LSU at No. 1.
The only thing Marcello identified as a potential weakness he sees in Oklahoma is its 2011 red-zone scoring; just 59 percent of OU's trips inside opponents' 20-yard line ended in touchdowns last season.
"I still think they're a top-5 team," Marcello said of Oklahoma, citing the defense and Landry Jones, who he called one of the best quarterbacks in the nation.
"But I dropped them because there's been so much turmoil -- suspensions, guys not being there and coming back, injuries -- so I thought Oregon should be in that No. 4 spot."
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