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August 13, 2011

Should Lewis injury affect Sooners' ranking?

At the College Football Roundtable each week, we ask each member of the college football coverage staff for his opinion about a topic in the sport.

THIS WEEK'S QUESTION: Oklahoma LB Travis Lewis has a broken bone in his left foot and will miss eight weeks. Is the injury serious enough for you to reconsider ranking Oklahoma No. 1 in the preseason poll?

Olin Buchanan's answer:
Alabama would have been my No. 1 pick before Lewis' injury. That said, losing a player of Lewis' caliber, a guy who is a team leader and a three-time all-conference selection, has to hurt. His replacement, sophomore Corey Nelson, is highly regarded, so the drop-off might not be as dramatic as feared. But no team can lose a player such as Lewis without some decline. Still, as good as Lewis is, I don't think his absence (for however long it turns out to be) changes OU's outlook much. The Sooners' strength is their offense. They might have to score 35 points a game without Lewis, but they're capable of doing that.

Tom Dienhart's answer:
I think it is. This wasn't a tremendous Sooners defense to begin with. Last season, the unit was 58th in the nation vs. the run (148.9 ypg), 51st vs. the pass (212.9) and 53rd overall (361.9). The group also is replacing three starting defensive backs while also dealing with the offseason death of LB Austin Box. Now, Oklahoma will be without its best defensive player for eight weeks. Lewis is the true heart and soul of the unit after leading OU in tackles each of the past three seasons. The Sooners will have to play some big games without Lewis, including a huge trip to Florida State on Sept. 17. There also is a home game against Missouri and the annual Red River Rivalry with Texas that OU must play without Lewis. Knowing that Lewis will be out for eight weeks, I think Alabama or LSU now would be better choices at No. 1.

David Fox's answer:
Absolutely. Anytime we rank a team No. 1, we're essentially picking that team to win the national championship, with a great chance of going undefeated. All I have to do is look at the Sooners' schedule to see there is a major barrier to Oklahoma achieving both of those goals - the game at Florida State on Sept. 17, which Lewis will miss. Even if that is Oklahoma's only loss, one loss might be enough to keep the Sooners out of the national title race. If Florida State is indeed the top-10 team everyone is predicting the Seminoles will be, Lewis' absence may be enough to tilt that game in favor of Florida State. Beyond that game, there's the possibility Lewis could miss the Texas game, too. I realize Oklahoma should be a far better team than Texas this season, but the Sooners still beat the Longhorns last season by a mere eight points. Oklahoma could go undefeated without Lewis for a few games, but the injury would be enough for me to pick a new No. 1 team.

Mike Huguenin's answer:
Lewis is OU's best defensive player, by far, and might be the most talented player on the team. That said, Oklahoma's offense is why I had them as my preseason No. 1. And as long as Landry Jones, Ryan Broyles, Kenny Stills and the rest of that unit is healthy, I still would have OU No. 1. There's no question, though, that early-season games against Florida State, Missouri and Texas just got a lot more interesting. It's hard to beat good teams without your best defensive player, and that's what OU has to do now.

Steve Megargee's answer:
Lewis' injury certainly has given me second thoughts about putting Oklahoma in the No. 1 spot. Oklahoma likely wins its season opener against Tulsa with or without Lewis, but the Sooners travel to Florida State and play host to Missouri in their next two games. I expected an Oklahoma team that featured Lewis in its linebacker corps to win both those games. Without Lewis in the lineup, that showdown at FSU looks more like a toss-up and even the home game with Missouri seems dangerous. And even though I'd penciled in Oklahoma for the No. 1 spot throughout the postseason, I always questioned the wisdom of not selecting a team from the SEC, which has won the past five national championships. I had opted for Oklahoma originally in part because my preseason SEC favorite was Alabama, and I didn't want to predict that the national title would go to a team with a first-year starting quarterback. But now that Oklahoma has lost a key member of its defense for a significant chunk of the season, I'd be more inclined to make Alabama my preseason pick for the championship.

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