August 11, 2011

Dienhart: Lewis injury hurts Sooners

Here is this week's "Three and Out," a weekly feature that will provide a quick but opinionated take from Tom Dienhart on three hot topics.

1. Lewis' loss will hurt Sooners. Don't minimize the loss of Oklahoma linebacker Travis Lewis, who is expected to miss eight weeks after breaking a bone in his left foot at Monday's practice. Lewis has been the Sooners' leading tackler in each of the past three seasons from his weakside linebacker spot. He also is an inspirational leader who contemplated turning pro after last season but opted to return for his senior campaign. Lewis' loss further compromises a defense that already is dealing with the death of linebacker Austin Box. All this for a defense that wasn't dominant last season. The Sooners finished 58th in the nation against the run (148.9 ypg), 51st against the pass (212.9) and 53rd overall (361.9). What looks to be a spectacular Oklahoma offense may have to carry a bigger-than-expected-role while the Sooners' defense rounds into form minus Lewis. That makes early-season tests at Florida State (Sept. 17), vs. Missouri (Sept. 24) and vs. Texas in Dallas (Oct. 5) scary for the nation's preseason No. 1 team.

2. A mountain-sized diss. I was surprised to see that West Virginia wasn't ranked in the preseason coaches poll. The Mountaineers clearly are the cream of the crop in the Big East. Yes, WVU has issues, particularly on a defense that welcomes back just four starters. And the offense is adjusting to a new scheme under coach Dana Holgorsen. Still, there is a lot to like. If the Mountaineers can start 3-0, which is likely, that would set up a huge visit from LSU on Sept. 24. If West Virginia can pull that upset, it likely would be favored in every remaining game and have a great chance to run the table.

3. Feeling the heat on the West Coast. This isn't a good season to be a coach in the Pac-12, as no other league features as many coaches on the hot seat. There are at least four coaches with a sense of urgency to win this fall, headed by UCLA's Rick Neuheisel (15-22 in three seasons). Washington State's Paul Wulff (5-32 in three seasons) and Arizona State's Dennis Erickson (25-23 in four seasons) also face pressure to produce significant results. And Arizona's Mike Stoops (40-45 in seven seasons) will be scrutinized after the Wildcats reached the AP top 10 last season only to lose their final five games to finish 7-6. Furthermore, Oregon's Chip Kelly could be in a tough spot if an NCAA investigation turns up wrongdoing, and USC's Lane Kiffin is working for an athletic director who didn't hire him.

Tom Dienhart is a national senior writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dienhart@yahoo-inc.com, and you can click here to follow him on Twitter.




 

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