NORMAN — If the Oklahoma football team lives up to media expectations in 2017, Lincoln Riley will direct the Sooners to a Big 12 title in his first season as head coach. For the fifth time in the seven years since the Big 12 moved to 10 teams, OU has been picked to win this year's league championship in a preseason media poll released by the conference office Thursday.
Riley's Sooners garnered 19 of 32 first-place votes and tallied 303 points in the poll to outpace second-place Oklahoma State (12 first-place votes) by nine points. Kansas State, which picked up the other first-place vote, totaled 231 points and was followed by Texas (213 points), TCU (202), West Virginia (183), Baylor (129), Texas Tech (85), Iowa State (83) and Kansas (37).
If Oklahoma follows through and wins the 2017 league title, it will mark the Sooners' 11th Big 12 championship and third straight. No other school has won more than three total. Since OU's first Big 12 title in 2000, no other program has won more than two.
The Sooners return 16 starters from last year's team that finished 11-2 under former head coach Bob Stoops and was the first to go 9-0 in the Big 12 regular season. After downing Oklahoma State 38-20 in the Big 12 finale to win the league crown, OU beat Auburn 35-19 in the Sugar Bowl and finished No. 3 in the Amway Coaches Poll and No. 5 in the AP Top 25 Poll. Nine offensive starters are back for 2017, including Preseason Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year Baker Mayfield, who has finished in the top four of Heisman Trophy voting each of the last two years. OU, which also returns its entire starting offensive line, welcomes back seven defensive starters, not including punter and placekicker Austin Seibert.
Five Sooners were named to the Preseason All-Big 12 Team on Wednesday. They were Mayfield, tight end Mark Andrews, 2016 Big 12 Offensive Lineman of the Year Orlando Brown, linebacker Ogbonnia Okoronkwo and cornerback Jordan Thomas. Mayfield, Andrews, Brown and Thomas were first-team all-league picks last year, while Okoronkwo was a second-team selection.
OU opens the season Sept. 2 at home against UTEP at 2:30 p.m. CT before traveling to face Ohio State on Sept. 9 at 6:30 p.m. CT.
The Big 12 will holds its first championship game since 2010 on Dec. 1 or 2 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. The game will feature the top two finishers in the league standings.