Oklahoma football: Sooners escape much of criticism to first AP Top 25 reveal of 2022

Fans cheer before a college football game between the University of Oklahoma Sooners (OU) and the West Virginia Mountaineers at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium in Norman, Okla., Saturday, Sept. 25, 2021. Oklahoma won 16-13.J6p1320
Fans cheer before a college football game between the University of Oklahoma Sooners (OU) and the West Virginia Mountaineers at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium in Norman, Okla., Saturday, Sept. 25, 2021. Oklahoma won 16-13.J6p1320 /

As is generally the case this time every year, the first Associated Press Top 25 poll of the college football season has sparked plenty of disagreement and debate, but the Oklahoma football team’s No. 9 ranking seemed to skirt clear of any real controversy.

It’s as if the first issuance of the AP college football rankings every season is indelibly etched in cement to serve as the permanent pecking order for the entire season, or so it would seem given the difference of opinion expressed by members of the media and especially passionate fans who feel their team has been undervalued and underappreciated.

Some things are fairly certain about the preseason rankings, says Paul Finebaum, well known as an SEC homie, who was a guest on a number of sports talk programs on Monday after the release of the initial AP Top-25 poll of the 2022 season.

“Now it’s to the point that it doesn’t really matter what you did the previous year, if you’re Clemson or if you have a big name like Southern Cal, you’re going to be ranked high.”

Some would include Oklahoma in Finebaum’s reference, but that’s not where his and the criticism of others are mostly directed this time around.

Finebaum, for example, was beside himself over Notre Dame’s No, 5 ranking. Quite a few national writers thought Clemson is overrated, and there were widespread questions about how teams like Penn State and Texas could go unranked.

The truth of the matter is that the preseason college football rankings, which by definition are issued before even a single game has been played, not only are subject to change, but absolutely will change as the season goes forward. So, the preseason rankings by the AP media panel, the Coaches Poll and all the others who like to express their crystal-ball notions on the matter, are merely placeholders at the starting line before the actual race begins.

In other words, the preseason projections don’t really matter in the big scheme of things other than establishing a somewhat arbitrary starting point.

A closer look at the Preseason AP Top-25 vote, courtesy of College Poll Tracker, shows how all 63 voters ranked Oklahoma. The votes on the Sooners ranged from as high as No. 5 (three voters had OU ranked that high) and as far down as 21st. Sixteen media members, or 25 percent of the full panel, ranked the Sooners at No. 9 spot. Among the 16 were Adam Zucker of CBS Sports, Rece Davis of ESPN, Ryan Aber of The Oklahoman, and Kirk Bohls, sports columnist for the Austin American-Statesman.

One interesting note about Oklahoma’s top-10 ranking in the preseason AP Top 25: This is the seventh consecutive year that the Sooners begin the season as the highest ranked Big 12 team. Baylor is No. 10 in the AP poll and Oklahoma State starts the season at No. 12.

ESPN staff writer Bill Connelly has done a deep dive into the AP preseason poll and come up with some compelling trends. For instance, Alabama, this season’s preseason No. 1 team, has been on an historic run of national championships with six national titles in Nick Saban’s 15 seasons in Tuscaloosa. While the Crimson Tide has been the preseason No. 1 team six times under Saban’s reign and ended the season No. 1, they have done so only once in the same season.

In fact, Connelly found that in the last 28 seasons, only three eventual national champions began the season as the preseason No. 1 team. Moreover, in the last 25 seasons, only 32 of the 75 teams that started out the season as one of the top three teams actually finished in the top three. Perhaps that will provide some hope to those who aren’t particularly enthused over the idea that Alabama, Ohio State and Georgia, the top three teams in both the AP and Coaches Poll preseason rankings, probably have the top three College Football Playoff spots locked up.

On average 5.4 teams in the preseason top 10 also finish the year there, Connelly’s research shows, while 2.8 end the season somewhere between 11th and 25th in the final rankings and 1.8 end up unranked. Turning things around and looking at the end-of-season rankings first, statistically this is what the top 10 looks like: 5.4 teams started out the season in the top 10, another 2.5 moved into the top 10 after a preseason ranking between 11th and 25th, and 2.1 were unranked at the beginning of the season, casting future optimism for the fans of Penn State and Texas.

So what it all comes down to is that preseason college football rankings are more a creation for the fans to create some expectations for the start of every college football season and spawn natural controversy for the sports media to write about and the fans to divide and conquer lining up on both sides of the debate.

The coaches and fans waste little time in telling us they don’t pay any attention or care about the preseason rankings. This is a myth — coachspeak, if you will. You know they do. But at the end of the day — or season — as they say, if you go out and take care of business every week, this will all take care of itself.