So far this week, three high-profile college football writers have broached the subject of the Oklahoma Sooners opening the season as the country's top-ranked team. Let's hear them out.
*SI.com's Andy Staples put OU at No. 1 in his post-spring rankings, although he declined to elaborate out of respect for the passing of Austin Box. Looking back at his poll from January, Staples pointed to the Sooners' returning offensive firepower as the biggest reason for excitement in Norman.
Nothing particularly revolutionary here.
*Conveniently, Staples' SI.com colleague Stewart Mandel is contending that Alabama should be the true 2011 favorite, penning a counterpoint column today extolling the virtues of the Crimson Tide. (Funny how that works.)
Mandel's rationale actually mirrors my thinking at the moment: In a nutshell, 'Bama is just that good. In particular, Nick Saban's callow 2010 defense is all growns up, and in true Saban style, the Tide can ride a physical running game to New Orleans. Don't forget that Slick Nick has won national championships with one quarterback who is currently the state of Louisiana's most popular dentist and another who is more likely to become the next Kirk Herbstreit than to ever take a snap in the NFL.
Mandel goes a little far in saying that the general consensus of OU over 'Bama is "baffling" – I mean, this team just lost four first-round draft picks and a quarterback with a national title under his belt. Even so, Saban is cooking with gas, and, top to bottom, 'Bama has a talent edge over the Sooners and every other team in the land.
*The esteemed Matt Hinton, aka Dr. Saturday, takes an in-depth look the Sooners' title hopes, and the result is a variation on a common theme: The offense should be ridiculous. Hinton holds up Florida State's 1999 team as a title-winning analog to the 2011, the general idea being that the Seminoles' Ferrari of an offense more than made up for their Honda Civic defense.
Hinton's analysis illustrates the most interesting discrepancy between the national perception of this OU team and the talk coming out of the Sooners' camp. While everyone outside the Sooner State is asking if the D will hold up well enough to support Landry Jones and Ryan Broyles and Roy Finch, Bob Stoops and his coaching staff are wondering if Travis Lewis and Tony Jefferson and Demontre Hurst will build the foundation of one of OU's best defenses in recent memory.