Back in the saddle
Oklahoma beats out Ohio State for AP preseason No. 1Posted: Saturday August 16, 2003 12:12 PM
Updated: Saturday August 16, 2003 6:10 PM
NEW YORK (AP) -- Oklahoma is back in a familiar spot.
The Sooners open the college football season atop The Associated Press poll for a record ninth time, beating out defending national champion Ohio State for the No. 1 ranking in voting released Saturday.
"I appreciate the fact that people view us that way," Sooners coach Bob Stoops said. "I don't want to undervalue that. We appreciate that people view us as one of those teams that can win it all. But in the end, they don't hand out any trophies in August."
Oklahoma got 32 first-place votes and 1,573 points to Ohio State's 27 firsts and 1,532 points from the 65 sports writers and broadcasters on the AP panel.
It's the widest margin in the preseason Top 25 since 1999, when Florida State had 77 more points than Tennessee.
Rounding out the Top 10 are Miami (two first-place votes), Michigan (two), Texas, Auburn (one), Kansas State (one), Southern California, Virginia Tech and Pittsburgh.
Oklahoma was playing about as well as anyone when last season ended, easily beating Colorado in the Big 12 championship game and Washington State in the Rose Bowl to finish 12-2.
The Sooners hope to build off those wins with a balanced offense and dominating defense. Nine starters return to a defense that ranked 10th in the nation in yards, fifth in points.
"We can be the best defense that OU has ever had," defensive tackle Dusty Dvoracek said. "Maybe the best that college football has ever seen."
The anchor is defensive tackle Tommie Harris, an All-American last season despite a groin injury. He's one of four Sooners on the preseason watch list for the Nagurski Award, given to the best defender in the nation. The others are linebacker Teddy Lehman, cornerback Derrick Strait and safety Brandon Everage.
Oklahoma, which won its seventh AP title in 2000, also was the No. 1 preseason pick in the USA Today/ESPN coaches poll, released July 31. The coaches had the same top three teams as the AP.
The Sooners are the preseason No. 1 for the first time since 1987. They have won the title four times after opening the season atop the AP poll.
"We have a lot of people in this program who understand what it takes to win a championship," Stoops said. "You earn it through hard work and competition through the entire year. We're looking to compete for the championship just like everyone else."
While nine of the previous 53 preseason No. 1s won the championship, Florida State is the only school to go wire-to-wire, doing it in 1999.
Ohio State and Nebraska are tied for second with six preseason No. 1s.
The Cornhuskers are one of the notable omissions this year after being ranked in the preseason the last 33 years. Florida State now has the longest current string at 21 seasons.
"A lot of guys have a chip on their shoulder," Cornhuskers fullback Judd Davies said. "We went from being the bully to getting bullied. When you win so much, it's hard not to win."
For the sixth time in the past seven years, the defending champion did not start the next season at the top of the poll.
Ohio State figures to be a formidable contender, however. It returns all 11 starters on offense from a team that went 14-0 and should be strong at defensive line and cornerback.
"I know we're going back to the national championship because we've got a lot of good athletes coming back," two-way star Chris Gamble said.
The big question for Ohio State surrounds star running back Maurice Clarett, who is being held out of practice because of investigations into his eligibility by the NCAA and the university.
Oklahoma's hopes for winning another title rest heavily on quarterback Jason White, who has gone down with knee injuries the last two years.
"I feel like I'm just as capable as I used to be," White said. "I guess I don't have any more knees to blow out."
Oklahoma also must replace leading rusher Quentin Griffin, whose 1,884 yards last season rank second in school history.
Kejuan Jones figures to get the first crack at taking over for Griffin. At 5-foot-9, 187 pounds, Jones resembles Griffin in size, but not style. Jones is more of a grinder and set a school freshman record with 14 touchdowns last season.
Leading off the second 10 is Georgia, followed by Tennessee, Florida State, LSU, Maryland, North Carolina State, Washington, Virginia, Purdue and Notre Dame.
Wisconsin, Arizona State, Colorado State, Oklahoma State (last ranked in the preseason in 1985) and TCU round out the poll.
The first regular-season AP poll will be released Sept. 1.