The Oklahoma Sooners will head into the 2011 college football season sitting atop the USA Today Coaches Poll, released Thursday.
The poll should give the Sooners a slight leg-up in the race for a national title if they can hold on to the No. 1 spot through mid-October.
The all-important BCS rankings will be released Oct. 16, with the Coaches Poll accounting for one-third of the formula. At that point, the race for the National Championship, to be played in the Louisiana Superdome Jan. 9., will be in full swing.
"It’s an honor to be ranked No. 1 any time, but we understand that the preseason ranking means very little compared with what it will mean months from now," said Sooners head coach Bob Stoops, whose football team is the preseason No. 1 for the first time since 2003.
Oklahoma garnered 1,454 points and 42 first-place votes from the 59 coaches on the panel. Alabama, who grabbed the No. 2 spot in the preseason rankings, had 1,414 points and 13 first-place votes.
Oregon, who fell to Auburn 22-19 in the national title game last season, is ranked third, followed by LSU in fourth. Both schools received two first-place votes.
Auburn, following the departure of top NFL draft pick Cam Newton and defensive tackle Nick Fairley, enters the season ranked 19th — the lowest preseason ranking for a defending champion since USA Today began releasing the poll in 1991.
Florida State, under second-year head coach Jimbo Fisher, will start the season ranked fifth, while Stanford, looking to capitalize on the return of star quarterback Andrew Luck, sits in the No. 6 spot.
Boise State, Oklahoma State, Texas A&M and Wisconsin round out the top 10.
To little surprise, the Southeastern Conference, which has produced the last five national title winners, leads the way with eight teams in the preseason top 25.
The newly revamped conferences of the Big Ten and Big 12 are represented by five teams each. Big Ten newcomers Nebraska sit right behind Wisconsin at No. 11, while Oklahoma State ranks as the top conference threat to intrastate rivals Oklahoma followed by the Aggies of A&M.
Notre Dame, coming off an 8-5 season and a 33-17 blowout victory over Miami in the Hyundai Sun Bowl, enters head coach Brian Kelly’s second season ranked 18th.
The college football season kicks off Thursday, Sept. 1.