Crystal Ball Run Preseason Top 10: No. 1 Oklahoma Sooners

Bob-StoopsThroughout its opening week, Crystal Ball Run has looked at the clubs that we consider to be the favorites in college football entering the 2011 season.

Finally we’ve reached No. 1. And you shouldn’t be surprised who it is…

Crystal Ball Run Preseason Top 10

No. 1 – Oklahoma Sooners

Oklahoma in a Word: Scary

Heading into Bob Stoops’ 12th season as head coach at Oklahoma, his teams have followed a somewhat consistent cycle: a rebuilding year, followed by a season or two of conference title-caliber play, building into a national championship-contending wrecking ball of a squad.

The 2009 season was a mess. Last year, OU won its seventh Big 12 championship. This year’s team definitely has a combination of talent and experience that should strike fear into the hearts of opponents.

An equally scary thought for spoiled Sooner fans: another year of falling just short of Stoops’ 2nd BCS title. (Yes, we’re that spoiled.)

Why Oklahoma Will Live Up to Billing:

If this was one of those interminably boring 7-on-7 leagues, the Sooners would be a shoe-in to win the whole enchilada. Right now, OU’s passing game is college football’s version of Dirk’s fade-away jumper.

Stoops and his staff have assembled a stellar complement of talent at the skill positions to keep the Sooners’ points-by-the-boatload offense humming. Starting with all-star receiver Ryan Broyles, you won’t find a better crop of pass catchers in the country. Quarterback Landry Jones has his sights set on the first round of the NFL draft next year. Even though ultra-productive back DeMarco Murray finally used up all of his eligibility, a stable of all-purpose runners, including Roy Finch, Brandon Williams and Brennan Clay, offer the potential for a talented time-sharing arrangement.

The bottom line is that if you can’t put up plenty of points, you simply won’t be able to hang with OU this year.

Why Oklahoma Will Disappoint:

Ask Sooner supporters about the offensive and defensive lines and you’ll get the football equivalent of “great personality.” It’s not that they’re bad, per se – they’re just not great.

On the offensive side, the big uglies struggled in 2010 to open up holes in the running game, which yielded 3.36 yards per attempt (106th nationally). When you hear about OU using screen passes as an extension of the running game, that’s why.

Meanwhile, it was the other side of the coin on defense that struggled as well as opponents habitually broke off big gains on the ground. Stoops and defensive coordinator Brent Venables experimented with a 3-4 set late last year to compensate for the thin defensive line, but OU simply doesn’t have the personnel to rely on that as anything more than a change of pace.

At the end of the day, Oklahoma is really counting on guys like defensive tackle Jamarkus McFarland and end R.J. Washington to match the hype that accompanied them when they arrived in Norman.

Key Game: Oklahoma State (Dec. 3)

It was the story coming out of last summer’s conference realignment shell game: Thanks to the new Big 12 schedule, back-to-back Bedlam games would be played in Stillwater.

As traditional rivalries go, this one is about as one-sided as it can get. However, maybe the stars are aligning for OSU coach Mike Gundy. His teams have played the Sooners competitively at Boone Pickens Stadium, and the Pokes have an open date prior to this year’s edition of Bedlam.

If OU is knocking on the door of the national championship game, you can bet Stillwater will be rocking.

On the Spot: Tom Wort

The unenviable task of replacing veteran middle linebacker Austin Box will likely fall on Wort’s shoulders. Wort saw plenty of action as a redshirt freshman last season, and the likelihood of a boom or a bust on every play was somewhere around 50-50.

More than anything, the D may miss Box’s steadying leadership on the field.

Final Verdict:

When it comes to the process of anointing a preseason No. 1 team, Oklahoma fits the bill. The Sooners have big names back at high-profile positions and finished last season on a high note with a conference title and blowout BCS win.

Even so, this team still has plenty of warts and tough games against Florida State, Missouri, Texas, Texas A&M and Oklahoma State just to get a shot at the national championship. OU is as good a bet as anyone else to win it all; just don’t bet the house.

Best Case Scenario: National championship, 13-0.

Worst Case Scenario: Fourth in Big 12, 9-4.