AP Poll College Football 2011: Top 25 Team Comparison to Past Champions

David Luther@@davidrlutherFeatured ColumnistAugust 22, 2011

AP Poll College Football 2011: Top 25 Team Comparison to Past Champions

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    The college football season draws ever nearer, and the Associated Press has now given us their annual preseason poll to debate.

    As each team's fan base settles into the assigned positions to begin the new season, those ranked high in the preseason polls relish in the early glory and enter the season confident, as so many national champions of the past have.

    Those who find their team's ranking less lofty begin 2011 bound and determined to prove to the world that the preseason poll is irrelevant, and plenty of previous trophy-hoisters have done so after beginning the season from outside the top 10, or even the top 20.

    College football has seen well over 100 national champions crowned, and the BCS is approaching its fifteenth anniversary.  There have been champions that have gone wire to wire as the top team in the country, and there have been teams that have seemingly come from nowhere to win it all.

    Let's take a look at each team, and how they can relate to champions of years gone by.

No. 25 USC

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    We might as well get the tough one out of the way early.

    The Trojans begin the new year as the No. 25 team in the nation, and that's about as good as things can turn out for USC in 2011. 

    The Trojans are in their second year of NCAA sanctions, and the season will once again end with no hope of a championship run, and no prospect for a bowl trip.   Even if USC were to somehow magically win all of their games this season, it wouldn't matter; the Trojans are fated to end the season about a month earlier than the majority of FBS programs.

    In a way, USC probably reminds us most of themselves in this regard. In the 2005 BCS National Championship game following the 2004 season, USC beat Oklahoma to capture their first (and to date, only) BCS championship. 

    In a spectacular implosion of allegations of NCAA rule violations, the subsequent stonewalling by pretty much everyone involved, and the eventual contrition of the USC program, the championship was vacated, and the trophy returned to the BCS.

    USC will eventually return to the national championship conversation—but obviously not this year.

No. 24 West Virginia

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    The Mountaineers begin the 2011 season as the only team from the Big East to make an appearance on the AP's preseason list.

    In general terms, the Big East is viewed as the weakest of the six BCS Automatic Qualifying conferences, and there's a pretty good reason for such a viewpoint.  Over the past few seasons, the eventual Big East champion has emerged as a relatively low-ranked team, and have been soundly beaten by whomever they are fated to oppose in that year's respective BCS bowl.

    There are some, however, that believe that 2011 may be the dawn of a new era for the conference.

    West Virginia has a new offensively-minded head coach, and many believe all of the on-field pieces to enjoy a true scoring renaissance in Morgantown.

    The last “renaissance team” trying to recapture past glory was Michigan in 1997.  The Wolverines captured the national championship, their 11th, after a 49-year drought. Will West Virginia be able to recapture past BCS glory this season?

No. 23 Auburn

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    It's difficult to believe, but Auburn reminds us of Auburn.

    But how can that be? How can the 2011 Tigers be anything like the 2010 Tigers?

    Simple. Where was Auburn at the beginning of 2010? About the same place in the polls.  Auburn was also loaded with players almost no one had head of before the season.  Honestly, how many people outside of Auburn circles would have recognized Cam Newton prior to the 2010 season?

    Last season, Auburn emerged from relative obscurity to become the best team in the nation.  By not only winning the SEC in impressive and entertaining style, but saving their best nail-biter for last, edging out an explosive Oregon team in the BCS Championship Game.

    Is it possible Auburn can again emerge from a depressed position in the preseason polls to become a top national contender in 2011? Sure, it's possible.

    Is it likely?

No. 22 Florida

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    Florida certainly has some serious challenges ahead for new head coach Will Muschamp. 

    The Gators closed out the Urban Meyer era with a mediocre 8-5 finish in 2010, and are looking to retool their offensive system under the direction of new offensive coordinator Charlie Weis.

    Florida's preseason ranking probably has more to do with their name than any prospect for winning championships in 2011. To us, that screams of LSU in 2007.

    Louisiana State suffered two losses over the course of the 2007 season, yet the Tigers were still able to win the SEC title that season, and earn the automatic BCS berth that went along with the championship. 

    What was surprising to many, though, was the fact the LSU was selected to play in the championship game with two losses.

    Teams generally considered to be “lesser” programs had better records, and up until the last week of the regular season, were ranked higher than LSU in every poll.  But a series of surprising losses by top teams over the course of the final weekend sent the BCS into chaos, and LSU emerged as the No. 2 team in the nation when it came time for bowl selections.

    As LSU went on to beat then-No. 1 Ohio State in the BCS title game, many argue that LSU deserved its shot—but there are just as many (if not more) who argue that LSU was selected ahead of other programs with identical records because of LSU's name-recognition and clout.

No. 21 Missouri

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    The Missouri Tigers are returning a lot of talent for the 2011 season, especially on the offensive side of the ball.

    Unfortunately, one player not coming back is Blaine Gabbert.

    The talented quarterback has elected to take his skills to the NFL, and the Tigers are left with a healthy quarterback competition to determine his replacement under center.

    In Columbus prior to the 2002 season, there was a relatively new face under center for the Ohio State Buckeyes.

    Craig Krenzel got his first start in the final regular season game in 2001 due to a suspension of then-starter Steve Bellisari. Krenzel led OSU to a win over Michigan in Ann Arbor (the first since the 1987 season), and next year was named the full-time starter for the Buckeyes.

    A relative unknown prior to the season, Krenzel was able to lead the Buckeyes to the 2001 national title.

No. 20 Mississippi State

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    The Bulldogs are certainly an up-and-coming team in the SEC, and we've seen from impressive wins from Mississippi State lately.

    But Mississippi State is still a “second-tier” school in the SEC—not yet reaching the level of Alabama, LSU, or Florida.

    The last team to win a national title despite it's lack of “traditional perennial power” was probably Tennessee, the inaugural BCS champion following the 1998 season.

    There's no doubt Tennessee was, and in many ways still is a good program, and the late '90's were certainly good to Vols fans.  But before—and unfortunately since—the Volunteers have slid back into a group in the SEC that always seems to be just on the outside of the greats in the conference.

No. 19 Georgia

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    Georgia Bulldogs fans didn't exactly have much to cheer about in 2010. 

    Georgia stumbled out of the gate, starting the season 1-4 before ending up with a 6-7 record—the program's first losing season in nearly two decades.

    If Georgia has any hope of getting anywhere close to a BCS title this season, there must be one heck of a turnaround in Athens.

    Luckily, quarterback Aaron Murray apparently has the talent to turn things around for Georgia.

    If the Bulldogs are to pull off a miracle this season, it wouldn't be unlike Stanford in 1940.  The Indians posted a 1-7-1 record in the 1939 season, and no one expected much from them in 1940. But head coach Clark Shaughnessy brought back the old “T” formation—with a few new modifications.

    Stanford not only won improved over the '39 season, but the Indians won every game in 190, and Stanford captured its second Rose Bowl victory, and second of its two total national titles—all after losing seven of nine games the previous season.

No. 18 Ohio State

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    This is really a difficult team to compare to any previous national champion.

    Since we don't yet know the extent of the penalties to be imposed by the NCAA for the blatant disregard for NCAA rules by the staff and administration at Ohio State.  It's difficult to determine if the Buckeyes will even have the opportunity to play for a national championship this season.   But signs point to “no.”

    In the end, Ohio State president E. Gordon Gee should probably send a large bouquet of flowers to Donna Shalala, president of the University of Miami.  What was once the scandal the media just couldn't get enough of is now a scandal that seems pretty minor in comparison to the implosion occurring at Miami.

    Still, don't expect the NCAA to simply forget about the transgressions and subsequent failed cover-up at Ohio State.

    The closest thing you can come to Ohio State and a national championship chance this season is probably Alabama and their trip to the 2010 BCS National Championship following the 2009 season.  After all, Alabama was technically on probation at the time—but it wasn't considered “major” probation, at least not according to the definition of the American Football Coaches Association (the governing body of the USA Today Coaches Poll).

    The AFCA prohibits its members from voting for a team on “major” probation (which is why you don't see USC receiving even a single point in the 2011 preseason coaches poll). 

    “Major” probation means one or more of the following: loss of television appearances, loss of 20 percent of total scholarships in any one season, or loss of post-season eligibility.

    It's likely that Ohio State will probably receive one of those penalties (most likely a post-season ban), and consequently will be ineligible to be ranked in the coaches poll.

No. 17 Michigan State

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    Like Mississippi State, Michigan State is a team from a power conference that isn't typically mentioned as a top-flight program in that conference.

    The Spartans certainly had an impressive 2010 season, finishing with a school record 11 victories.

    Of course, the two losses on MSU's record were pretty bad ones: an absolutely dismantling by Iowa and a steamrolling by Alabama in the Capital One Bowl.

    Still, the Spartans return a pretty talented core, led by senior quarterback Kirk Cousins, one of the nation's most underrated pocket passers.

    There's a lot of concern about the Spartans, though.   And rightfully so. 

    MSU has had the nasty tendency to not sustain their success, and State could end up becoming the latest flash in the pan in college football.

    The last time we saw such a sudden onset of quality play followed by a precipitous downfall was probably the 1990 Colorado national “championship” team (the claim is pretty dubious, considering how the final score of the Colorado-Missouri game was reached midway through the season).

    Colorado was certainly not known as a power prior to 1990, and we haven't heard much from the Buffaloes since.

    We're not saying Michigan State is destined to go the way of the Buffaloes—but there's a chance.  We just can't ignore the histories of both MSU and Colorado.

No. 16 Notre Dame

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    Notre Dame is a team that seems to be on the verge of recapturing the magical aura that had surrounded South Bend for what seems like forever.

    After a series of coaching hires that can only be described in hindsight as successive blunders, the Fighting Irish finally appear to have their man. 

    Brian Kelly is smartly, yet quickly rebuilding Notre Dame into a national powerhouse, and the Irish are a team that has set their sights squarely on the BCS this season.

    Perhaps the last team to recapture some of its proud tradition of years past is our most recent BCS champion, Auburn.

    Auburn, like Notre Dame, has a history of success and it's a program that no matter how far it seems to fall, is always on the verge of coming back with a vengeance.  Last season, we saw a Tigers squad that was out to prove to everyone in the SEC, and the nation, that one should never ignore Auburn.

    Even a relatively low ranked preseason Auburn has the ability to storm through the SEC en route to a BCS title.

    Notre Dame is much the same way.   Regardless of their past failures, the University of Notre Dame will always be able to attract the best talent from around the country.

    Notre Dame has just not been able to find the perfect mix of talented players and competent coaching.   Auburn found it last season.

    Is it the Irish's turn?

No. 15 Arkansas

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    We're going to travel back to 1990 to find a comparison to this year's Arkansas team.

    Georgia Tech won a share of the national championship in 1990 after being selected by UPI as the top team in the nation after the season.

    The Yellow Jackets in 1990 stormed through their schedule en route to a 11-0-1 record, which included wins over then-No. 1 Virginia, Georgia, and Nebraska.

    Arkansas, like Georgia Tech, isn't starting the season as one of the top contenders, but they have the offensive ability to outscore any opponent faced.

    In 1990, Tech outscored their foes 379-186 while beating some quality ranked opponents along the way.

    Arkansas will have much the same opportunity to derail the seasons of ranked opponents in their 2011 SEC season.

No. 14 Texas Christian

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    In order to find the last team from the state of Texas not named the University of Texas to win a national championship, you have to go all the way back to 1939, when Texas A&M claimed the title with a record of 11-0.

    The year before that, in 1938, Texas Christian was a national champion,

    The 1938 TCU team was led by a Heisman-winning quaterback, Davey O'Brien, and also featured two other eventual first-round pro draft selections—in an era when there were just ten first round selections.

    Texas Christian has probably lost the best quarterback they're likely to have anytime in the near future when Andy Dalton finished his tenure at TCU, and moved on to the NFL.

    But if TCU is destined for another national championship, they're going to need an O'Brien-like performance out of their new starter—whoever that ends up being (not that it's been thrown into doubt by head coach Gary Patterson).

No. 13 Virginia Tech

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    Much like TCU, Virginia Tech has lost their quintessential play-maker when Tyrod Taylor finished up the last of his eligibility last season for the Hokies.

    Tech didn't start out on the best note last season, going 0-2 against Boise State and FCS James Madison.  The Hokies were able to regroup, and eventually won the ACC championship, and earned themselves a trip to the Orange Bowl.

    After a near miss against Boise State, and a shocker against James Madison, it's not too much of a stretch to believe that Virginia Tech just missed out on what could have been a very special season.

    That's not unlike the Miami Hurricanes, and their 2000 season, which ended 11-1.  The Hurricanes followed up their 2000 season with a 12-0 mark and national championship in 2001.

    While Miami had the preseason motivation of being snubbed by the computers in 2000.  Virginia Tech has the preseason motivation of being snubbed by their own complacency to begin the 2010 season. 

    After a late touchdown led Boise State over V irginia Tech, it seemed as if the Hokies expected James Madison to simply lie down for them. That didn't happen, and it was probably for the best. 

    That disappointment led to an impressive rally for Virginia Tech.

    Can they continue the rally into 2011, even without the services of a player like Tyrod Taylor?

No. 12 South Carolina

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    South Carolina wouldn't be the first team to overcome issues with a starting quarterback to win a national championship.

    Of course, the first step is to win the SEC—something to which the Gamecocks came very close last season.

    Stephen Garcia has been reinstated as the starting quarterback by South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier.  Garcia's latest suspension, his fifth at South Carolina, came after he became disruptive at an SEC-mandated seminar for football players. 

    It remains to be seen if this is the last suspension for Garcia, or if he'll continue to be a thorn in the side of his coaching staff.

    Steve Spurrier is legendary coach in college football, and his status would be cemented with a BCS championship before he retires once and for all.  Like Bobby Bowden's last hurrah in 1999, Spurrier seems to be slowly putting the pieces together for a run at a championship. 

    Bowden certainly had his issues with players (although much of the problem remained hidden until recently), but his name remains synonymous with success and Florida State football.

    A national championship for South Carolina under Spurrier would have much the same effect for Spurrier in Columbia.

No. 11 Wisconsin

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    When will is be the Badgers' year? The Badgers have played over 1,100 games, spanning 122 years.

    With Wisconsin's 123rd year of football finally be the year they win their first-ever national championship?

    It's hard to imagine a program with as many wins and as many good seasons as Wisconsin still has yet to win a national championship—especially considering the tonnage of dubious claims to titles in the era before the BCS.

    Wisconsin's 122 years of futility is most reminiscent of Penn State and their 1982 national championship. 

    Like Wisconsin, it's difficult to grasp the fact that Penn State, and timeless leader Joe Paterno, the winningest coach in FBS history, has won just two national championships (although Penn State claims five others in the pre-Paterno era).

No. 10 Nebraska

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    Eventually, the world will accept the fact that Nebraska is in the Big Ten, and it won't be the only thing people can talk about when it comes to the Cornhuskers.

    But until Nebraska begins actually playing Big Ten contests, it's still a novel idea, and the Huskers will have to find a way to deal with the distraction.

    Nebraska also faces the prospect of starting their first Big Ten season as a possible favorite in the conference, all while dealing with a quarterback quandary no coach would want.

    Taylor Martinez had a rocky freshman season at Nebraska, to say the lease.   Passing for fewer than 1,800 yards and throwing only 10 touchdowns while tossing up seven interceptions.

    To hear Cornhuskers fans tell it, Martinez is well on his way to becoming the next Cam Newton or Joe Montana. 

    But with the way his stats looked after 2010, he could also be well on his way to becoming the next Jacory Harris—a highly touted talent that fell shockingly flat.

    But where was Florida in 2006 when they burst onto the national championship scene?

    The Gators had a young talent that was capable of leading his team through almost any obstacle, eventually becoming one of the greatest ever to play the game in Gainesville.

    If Martinez truly has the talent those the state of Nebraska believes he does, now is the time to show it. If he does, it will mean nothing but success in Lincoln.

No. 9 Oklahoma State

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    Is it possible for Oklahoma State to put up any more yards than they did last season?

    Well, we're about to find out.

    One of the most prolific offenses we've seen in quite some time is back in action, and the overwhelming majority of their starting cast from last season will be returning to center stage in Stillwater in 2011.

    When was the last time we saw such an offensive juggernaut blow through the competition to a national championship?   The 2009 Alabama team is a pretty good example.

    The Crimson Tide were led by Heisman winner Mark Ingram, and he ran over, through, and around the competition.

    Granted, Oklahoma State probably won't be relying on their running game to get past their opponents, but yards are yards, and points are points, whether they come from the ground or through the air.

No. 8 Texas A&M

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    As we mentioned before, the last team to win a national championship from the state of Texas other than Texas was Texas A&M.  That happened way back in 1939.

    Will the Aggies be able to break the curse of the Lone Star State and finally bring home a national title in 2011?

    The last time we had a national champion that brought home a title to their home state for the first time was BYU in 1984.   It was the first football national championship for any of the three now-FBS programs in the state (BYU, Utah, and Utah State), and is still the only football championship for the Beehive State.

    Granted, A&M has a title in their past, and Texas certainly has a number of titles.  Without the Longhorns, Texas would just be one of a whole host of other states with limited claims to championships.

No. 7 Stanford

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    Andrew Luck returns for another season under center for the Stanford Cardinal, and based on the team's performance from 2010, the AP has given the Cardinal quite a complement to begin the 2011 season, placing them in the top 10.

    While Luck returns from last season, there aren't a ton of additional starters returning.  Don't let that fool you, though.  

    Stanford's 2011 starters aren't exactly inexperienced, and the Cardinal will be a tough team to beat this season.

    Another past national champion that enjoyed a stellar season before bringing home a national title (or, in this case, three of the next four) is Nebraska.

    In 1993, the Cornhuskers had a tremendous year, finishing 11-1, and ranked No. 3 in the final AP poll of the season.   The Huskers returned quite a bit of talent for 1994, and finished 12-0 with a national championship the eventual reward.

    Nebraska went on to win the 1995 national championship, and split the 1997 national championship with Michigan.

No. 6 Florida State

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    When Bobby Bowden left the Seminoles program under less than stellar circumstances, there was some question about the future of Florida State on the football field.

    But after a complete season of Bowden-lessness in Tallahassee, we can confirm that Bowden left the program in pretty good shape, and new head coach Jimbo Fisher seems bound and determined to continue the success of the program.

    In 1997, the Michigan Wolverines were emerging from a period of uncertainty when it came to coaching. 

    The incomparable Bo Schembechler hung up headset after the 1989 season after 21 years roaming the U-M sidelines.  Gary Moeller took over for Bo, but lasted just five seasons as off-the-field embarrassments led to the university asking for his resignation.

    When Lloyd Carr took over the program, there were questions as to whether or not this long-time Michigan assistant was the right man for the job. 

    Carr soon proved he was the right man.  Winning a Big Ten and national championship in his third season at the hem of the Wolverines program.

    Carr went on to lead Michigan to a 122-40 record, which included five conference titles over thirteen seasons, as well as the aforementioned national championship.

    If Lloyd Carr seemed to be a cut from the Schembechler cloth, the same could very well be said about Fisher and Bowden.

No. 5 Boise State

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    When it comes to Boise State, there's not a whole lot from college football's past that compares.

    In fact, the last team from outside what is now the BCS AQ conferences (or their predecessors) was the 1984 BYU Cougars. 

    Before that, you'll need to go all the way back to the great Army teams of the World War II era to find a team that currently resides outside the power conferences (other than Princeton's dubious claim to the 1950 championship).

    Boise State is now the perennial outsider in the current era of “haves” and “have nots” in college football.  Boise State almost relishes in their role as a BCS buster.

    After years of overwhelming success on the field, the same old excuses from BCS-lovers about the tired (and largely ridiculous) strength-of-schedule argument, we bet Boise State is getting a little tired of not being allowed to play for a national championship—an honor they deserve if anyone else does by this point.

No. 4 Louisiana State

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    LSU clearly has had more than its fair share of success over the past few years.  

    BCS championships In 2003 and 2007 are just the tip of the very large Tigers iceberg of success.

    But LSU isn't the only team to multiple championships over a relatively short period.

    Should LSU survive the 2011 season long enough to play for and eventually capture their third BCS title since 2003.  They will join similar runs of success, like Nebraska's 1997 national championship season.

    Nebraska's national title in 1997 should have come as much of a surprise. 

    After all, the Huskers had won national titles in 1994 and 1995, and finished in the top five in the nation in 1993.

    Under Tom Osborne, Nebraska was clearly a national powerhouse with the ability to win a national title in any given season.  You can pretty much describe LSU udner Les Miles in exactly the same manner.

No. 3 Oregon

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    The Oregon Ducks are certainly taking full advantage of USC's downturn in the conference these past few seasons.  

    It just so happens that the Ducks have been able to put together some very good teams as USC recedes into their self-inflicted era of sanctions.

    The Ducks have won the last two Pac-10 championships, and in the first season for the new-look Pac-12, the Ducks are once again the odds-on favorite.

    The last time a team from the conference not named USC won a national championship was 1991,  and the Washington Huskies split the title with Miami.

    Washington followed through on their national championship aspirations after falling just short in 1990, finishing 10-2.  

    In 1991, the Huskies tore through the conference, and everyone else for that matter, going 12-0, and earning three of the four major championship selections for the season.

    Oregon is hoping to do the same thing the last national champion from the Pacific Northwest did: follow up a near miss with a title.

No. 2 Alabama

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    Alabama again finds itself near the top of the national polls to begin a new season. 

    After winning the BCS title after the 2009 season, Alabama began 2010 as the No. 1 team in the country. 

    The Tide came up just short, dropping some important conference games, but eventually ending the season on a high note.  Blowing past an 11-1 Michigan State team in the Capital One Bowl.

    Alabama is now hoping to duplicate the feat accomplished by the 2008 Florida Gators—recapture the BCS title after taking a season off.

    Florida captured the 2006 national championship after going 12-1 through the regular season, and capturing the SEC championship.  

    In 2007, LSU earned their famous (or infamous) bid to the BCS championship game even though the Tigers had dropped two games over the course of the year.

    Not to be ignored, the Gators came roaring back the following season, and Florida again went 13-1 behind the arm of Tim Tebow to capture their second BCS crown in three seasons.

    Nick Saban and company will have to return to the BCS championship with a team that is markedly different that their 2009 championship team, or even the 2010 edition of the Crimson Tide. 

    But Alabama is still a powerhouse in the SEC, and if there's any coach that can reload a program, it has to be Nick Saban.

    Why else would they erect a statue of the man in Tuscaloosa before he even retires?

No. 1 Oklahoma

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    It seems as if Oklahoma is a unanimous No. 1 to start the season (at least in any poll that really matters).

    The last time we had a national champion that went wire-to-wire as the No. 1 team in the nation, it was 2004, and USC put up a 13-0 record to capture the BCS championship.

    Of course, USC's 2004 record now stands at 11-0, and one of the victories vacated was the BCS championship game...

    But sanctions and vacating of victories aside, USC was a wire-to-wire No. 1. 

    If Oklahoma hopes to capture the BCS title this season, in a year where there appears to be so many viable candidates for the top spot, it's likely the Sooners won't be able to drop even a single game in 2011.

    Only time will tell if Oklahoma will be the latest preseason No. 1 team in the nation to capture a national championship.  Maybe years from now, columnists will be comparing those teams to a team like the 2011 Sooners.  Who knows...