The first thing that stands out about the Associated Press 2021 preseason college football Top 25 is the familiar names at the top. And Oklahoma football fans can take heart that their Sooners are right smack in the middle of that familiar grouping.
The voters who participate in the weekly AP Top 25 rankings are media representatives from around the country who cover and report on college football, and this week the AP voters saw fit to rank Oklahoma as the No. 2 team in the country in the AP’s annual preseason poll.
The top four teams in this year’s AP preseason Top 25 have combined for 20 of the 28 bids in the seven seasons of the College Football Playoff era. No. 1 Alabama and No. 3 Clemson have made six playoff appearances, while No, 2 OU and No. 4 Ohio State are tied with four appearances each.
This is the eighth time Alabama has started the season as the preseason No. 1 in the AP poll and the sixth in Nick Saban’s now 15 seasons as Bama’s head coach. Although the Crimson Tide are the reigning national champions and a heavy favorite to make it back to the playoff again this season, history is not in their favor to repeat as national champions.
Only three times in the history of the AP college football poll (from 1936 to present) has a team won the national championship, started No. 1 the following season and repeated as national champions that same year. Oklahoma is credited with doing it twice (in 1956 and 1975) and USC the other (2004).
Moreover, only eight of the previous Associated Press national champions started the season as the preseason No. 1.
The Sooners have been ranked in the preseason AP Top 25 every season since 2000, with an average ranking of 6.2 to start the season. Two times (2003 and 2011) OU was the AP preseason No. 1, and on two previous occasions (2002 and 2004) the Sooners began the season at No. 2.
Only once when starting out No. 1 or 2 in the AP poll did the Sooners finish the season outside of the top five. That was in 2011, when Oklahoma began the season at No. 1, but finished with a 10-3 overall record and tied for third in the Big 12.
If not Alabama, who is in best position to challenge the Crimson Tide this season for national title supremacy?
On ESPN’s “First Take” morning program last week, college football analyst Paul Finebaum, who hosts his own show on ESPN Radio, suggested that Oklahoma could pose a serious threat to the Tide’s championship chances.
“I think Oklahoma has a good shot at getting to the playoffs,” Finebaum said, “because the schedule is not that challenging and they also have one of the two or three best quarterbacks in the country in Spencer Rattler.”
But getting to the playoffs, of course, and winning it all are two completely different things, as the Sooners have painstakingly experienced, losing in the opening game in all four of their previous appearances.
Many college football experts believe this year’s Oklahoma team is the most complete team Lincoln Riley has had and has the right makeup, with a much-improved defense, to not only break the playoff drought but get to and potentially win the national crown.
Chances are high that not all of the AP preseason top-four teams will make the playoffs this season. In fact, in the 23-year span of the BCS/CFP era, last year was only the second time that three of the four teams in the AP preseason poll finished in the top four of the BCS/CFP final rankings, according to Matt Brown of The Athletic.
The good news from the Oklahoma perspective is that eight of the last nine national champions have ranked in the top six of the AP preseason poll and, according to figures put together by Brown, since the playoff era began in 2014, on average 2.0 of the teams that started out in the AP top four made the playoff.
Let’s be clear, however. this Oklahoma team won’t be satisfied just making it to the playoff in the 2021 season. The Sooners have a much higher goal in mind.