By Arnie Leshin
The pre-season Division I football rankings have been announced and defending champion Clemson holds down the top spot, followed by Alabama, Georgia and Oklahoma.
Once again, the Sooners will contend for a national championship. After coming away with back-to-back Heisman Trophy winners, and No. 1 NFL college draft selections in quarterbacks Baker Mayfield and Kyle Murray, they now bank on Alabama transfer Jaen Hurts.
Hurts, who started for the Crimson Tide most of his sophomore and junior seasons, is not the option player of Mayfield and Murray’s stats, but he brings experience, leadership and a strong arm.
Oklahoma is again considered the favorites in the Big 12, but showdowns with Iowa State, Texas and West Virginia could provide tough tests.
But its hardest match-up could be on the road, a non-conference game in the Rose Bowl against UCLA on September 14.
The Sooners, 10-2 last season, are given a 62.0 percent chance versus the Bruins, while having a 76.1 chance against archrival Texas at the Cotton Bowl.
Hard to figure when UCLA enters its second season under head coach Chip Kelly after going 3-9 in his debut. But the Bruins are expected to take a major leap in production this time. And yet, it’s still pretty shocking to see them with a 38.0 percent chance of upsetting Oklahoma.
But in order for the Sooners to punch their ticket back into the college football playoffs, they will have to be up for this third game of the campaign on the road against the upset-minded Bruins. If they survive this one, then they can focus on Texas, West Virginia, Iowa State and Oklahoma State, and none of these can be easy tests.