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The first phase of Oklahoma’s title run will go on without its best defensive player

Matt Hinton
Dr. Saturday

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Here's some news newly-minted No. 1 Oklahoma really, really didn't need right now: Senior linebacker Travis Lewis, a three-time all-conference pick and future high-round draft pick who was just voted the Big 12's preseason Defensive Player of the Year, is expected to miss eight weeks after breaking a bone in his foot during Monday's practice. That, to put it mildly, is a major bummer.

Do the math: With a little over three weeks remaining until the Sooners' Sept. 3 opener against Tulsa, Lewis is scheduled to miss both the crucial trip to Florida State on Sept. 17 and the Big 12 opener against Missouri a week later — and that's at minimum, if everything goes according to plan. Best-case, he'll be back in time for the Oct. 8 date with Texas.

Lewis' absence in at least two of the defining games of Oklahoma's season is a killer for the usual reasons — experience, senior leadership, etc. — and specifically for depth at linebacker in the wake of the untimely death of fellow senior Austin Box earlier this year. But the simple fact is that Lewis is without a doubt the best player on a defense that frankly was not all that great last year by the standards of a national championship contender. The Sooners gave up 36 and 33 points in losses at Missouri and Texas A&M, respectively, and 41 in a shootout win over Oklahoma State; earlier in the season, heavy underdogs Utah State, Air Force and Cincinnati all racked up well over 400 yards of total offense in games decided by a grand total of 12 points.

Lewis' presence was the best argument at Oklahoma's disposal that the mediocre statistics were nothing to worry about, that that side of the ball would be fine. Now, sophomore Corey Nelson will make his second career start in Tallahassee, in a road test that threatens to derail the Sooners' title ambitions before they really get off the ground. If they make it to the Red River Shootout with Lewis back in the fold, the perfect record intact and no lightning strikes or meteors at Memorial Stadium, maybe this is a team of destiny.

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Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.

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