College football fans pine for this time of year, when the anticipation for a new season is always at its highest. There is nothing bigger in the Sooner sports universe than Oklahoma football, and once again Sooner fans have reason to be euphoric.
First we had the so-called “way-too-early” top-25 projections that started coming out immediately following last season’s College Football Playoff. Having come off a season that ended with 10 consecutive wins and an impressive Sugar Bowl win over Auburn, the Sooners were projected between fourth and sixth in the way-too-early 2017 top-25 rankings.
Oklahoma was losing some key star power but was returning 16 starters from its 11-2 Big 12 championship 2016 team, including quarterback and two-time Heisman finalist Baker Mayfield.
And the Sooners also had the winningest coach in OU’s storied football history and the winningest active head coach in college football since 2000 at the helm. That is, until they didn’t. Bob Stoops dropped a bombshell on June 7, announcing that he was retiring. Not in a couple of years or at the end of the coming season, but effective immediately.
Stoops’ retirement may have cost the Sooners a couple of positions in the updated preseason polls, particularly the ones in the college preview magazines and those that have come out after the surprise announcement.
Oklahoma has a long history of being ranked among the top 25 college football teams, both in the preseason and again at the end of the season. In fact, in the 81 years the Associated Press has published its weekly top-25 rankings, the Sooners have appeared in 71 percent of all of the AP football polls.
The AP preseason top 25 is always the last of the major preseason top-25 polls to be issued. The first of the AP 2017 top-25 polls will come out in about two weeks. Since August 1, the Coaches Poll and Sports Illustrated have issued their preseason top-25 rankings.
But what does all this really mean? The answer is fairly simple: absolutely nothing.
About all the preseason rankings and rantings are good for is to fuel enthusiasm and stir up a lot of controversy and conversation within the media and among the fans as a buildup for the upcoming season. Like it or not, that’s it.
The only college football poll that actually counts for anything is the College Football Playoff poll, and that doesn’t make its first appearance for the 2017 season until around the middle of October. All of the other rankings — be it in the preseason and even the weekly Coaches and AP polls – have little if any value other than talking points and fan pride.
The rankings are generally the result of human subjectivity, based on who you play, when you play them and how you do on the field.
Other than the two or three teams at the very top, there is really very little to separate the teams that complete the preseason projected top 25, especially before any team has played a single down in the new season. It’s no wonder that the final top-25 rankings never resemble what the experts’ crystal balls have them envisioning before the season starts.
In Oklahoma’s last national championship season, in 2000, the Sooners were ranked 19th in the Associated Press preseason poll. Conversely, the Sooners began the 2014 season ranked No. 4 in the preseason poll, but finished the season outside of the top 25.
If my memory serves me correctly, Auburn, the 2010 national champions, began that season outside of the national rankings.
All of which underscores the point that all the preseason hoopla and hyperbole doesn’t amount to a thing until they start playing the games, which they will in earnest in another 23 days.