- Associated Press - Thursday, August 11, 2011

NORMAN, OKLA. (AP) - It’s an all too familiar scene for Oklahoma fans eagerly awaiting the program’s eighth national championship.

Just as the Sooners start getting hyped up as a favorite to win the title, a key player goes down with an injury before the team even gets to play a game. It happened two years ago when Oklahoma was loaded with talent after a loss in the BCS championship game, and it happened again this week when three-year starter Travis Lewis felt a pop in his left big toe.

Coach Bob Stoops called the loss of Lewis for up to eight weeks an “incredible blow.” But the Sooners still hope to break the SEC’s five-year stranglehold on the national championship and they have plenty of weapons to make a run at it.

Oklahoma has been picked by many as the favorite to bring home the crystal football after this season’s BCS title game in New Orleans. The Sooners are ranked No. 1 in the USA Today coaches poll. The AP rankings come out on Aug. 20.

“Who doesn’t want to be No. 1? Who doesn’t want to be in first?” cornerback Jamell Fleming said. “There is a little nerve-wracking thing about it but we just try not to think about that.

“We’re always expected to be high regardless. Year after year, that’s how it is. We’re not nervous. We’re just embracing it and going out there to play.”

The Sooners have eight starters back from an offense that ranked third in the nation in passing last season. That includes quarterback Landry Jones and All-American receiver Ryan Broyles, who led the nation with 131 receptions last season.

The most significant departure is DeMarco Murray, a third-round pick by the Dallas Cowboys after setting the school record with 65 career touchdowns.

There are seven starters back on defense, including Lewis, who is expected to return just before the Oct. 8 Red River Rivalry game against Texas.

“Having a target on our back has just helped us to work a lot harder. We know that we’re going to get everyone’s best shot every game, and that does nothing but excite us,” receiver Kenny Stills said.

Back in 2009, Oklahoma was among the preseason favorites before NFL-bound tight end Jermaine Gresham was hurt in the run-up to the season opener against BYU. Sam Bradford, the Heisman Trophy winner from the previous year, was injured just before halftime in that game and the injuries eventually piled up to where practically everyone on the offense _ and some on the defense _ missed time.

Last year, the Sooners rebounded to reach the top spot in the BCS standings before losing at Missouri the next week.

High expectations are certainly nothing new for a program that won the title in 2001, Stoops‘ first season at the helm, and has played for it three times since then.

“We just want to go out there on Saturday and perform like the No. 1 team. … We can be ranked No. 1 all we want and don’t go out there on Saturday _ like we were last year _ and not play as the No. 1 team, and it really doesn’t matter at the end of the day,” Jones said.

Oklahoma carries a 36-game home winning streak into the season and eliminated concerns about its play on the road by winning at Oklahoma State, beating Nebraska in the Big 12 championship game and routing Connecticut in the Fiesta Bowl to finish last season.

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