Strength of schedule is one of the most important things to evaluate when looking at a football teams season. A 12-0 Boise State won't ever get the nod over a 10-2 SEC school in the rankings, and there's reason for it. Playing tough opponents is the only way you can find out how good your team really is.
For a Big 12 team, everyone plays everyone so their strength of schedule is only separated by three non-conference games and where you play your toughest conference foes. For Oklahoma, their schedule is as tough as any in the Big 12. They play on the road at Tennessee and travel to Waco to play the reigning Big 12 champions. Only Texas has a tougher schedule than the Sooners play, as their non-conference games against Notre Dame, Cal, and Rice make for one of the toughest non-conference schedules in college football.
Oklahoma's schedule is no cupcake schedule though, as no Bob Stoops team has ever had the luxury of easy wins. This year is no different, from Akron to Oklahoma State. Here's all 12 regular season games ranked in order from easiest game to hardest game (venue is factored in as well, not just opponent's strength).
We start off at 12, with a very familiar non-conference foe.
12. Sept. 19th vs Tulsa Golden Hurricane (2-10 last season) -
Tulsa is no stranger to coming to Norman, and the results are usually the same. Bob Stoops is 8-0 against Tulsa and the Golden Hurricane haven't come within two touchdowns in the past fifteen years, with an average score of 50-14 in the past three match ups. Not to mention Tulsa had a terrible year last season and likely won't have it figured out by week three.
The lone reason for concern is this game is that it's right after a road contest with Tennessee, and if the Sooners lose that one then they may not be in the game mentally heading into this one, giving Tulsa a little bit of hope in Norman. That hope probably won't be enough, so the Sooners should roll over Tulsa heading into conference play.
11. Oct. 31st at Kansas Jayhawks (3-9) -
The Kansas Jayhawks could of very well of been placed last on this list, given that they are supposedly going to be one of the worst teams in college football this season. They aren't predicted to win any FBS games this year and their over/under win total is set at 1.5 on the season with an FCS game on the schedule. Ouch.
In fact, the only reason this game will be more difficult than the Tulsa game is that the Jayhawks have had some near upsets in the past couple years in Lawrence, and it feels like sooner or later they will break through and get one eventually.
10. Sept. 5th vs Akron Zips (5-7) -
The Zips have never played Oklahoma, but Akron does play decent non-conference games year in and year out.The Sooners will be stiff competition for the Zips, but Akron should make a run at their first bowl game under Terry Bowden, who took over after the 2011 season. Bowden is the son of former legendary head coach, Bobby Bowden.
Akron's defense was the brightside of their team last year, as they allowed only 23 points per game last season. They return 6 starters from the offense and 6 from the defense, and have a decent recruiting class coming in. But the Sooners won't lose to Akron in their home opener, even if it is close early on. They get the nod over the Golden Hurricane and Jayhawks because of that defense that will be up against the Sooners and their brand new offense.
9. Nov. 7th vs Iowa State (2-10) -
Whether or not Trevor Knight gets the nod as the starter, I say let the kid start against Iowa State. The past two games against the Cyclones he's recorded four rushing touchdowns and three through the air. Iowa State is no juggernaut on defense but they have yet to show that they can stop a running quarterback. Oklahoma would likely win no matter who was playing quarterback in this game, unless the Cyclones find a way to stop their defensive issues.
There's always that upset potential with the Cyclones though, especially with Baylor being the week after this game. The Sooners generally aren't upset ever by inferior opponents (only major upset the past five years being Texas Tech at home in 2011). But this one should very will be a big win by the Sooners and is only more difficult than the non-conference games because of the timing before Baylor, adding to the upset-feel of this game.
8. Oct. 24th vs Texas Tech (3-9) -
The last "easy" win I see the Sooners getting is Texas Tech. Baker Mayfield's previous team also runs the same offense, so this one should be four and a half hours of slinging the ball around. Samaje Perine beat the Red Raiders last season single handedly with 213 yards and three touchdowns in a 42-30 win. The defense surrendered nearly 500 yards to Texas Tech, in what was an ugly win for the Sooners.
This year, it should be a shootout early but Oklahoma should pull away in the second half and then stick to the ground game to pull off the win. But if Texas Tech can turn it into a shootout and force the quarterback into a couple of mistakes then it could swing either way in Norman.
7. Oct. 17th at Kansas State (9-4) -
No loss hurt more last season than the 31-30 loss against Kansas State did. TCU wasn't much of a surprise and was early in the season and the losses after this game stung less because the Sooners were already out of the CFB Playoff contention. This one however, turned Sooner fans against their beloved kicker, quarterback, and coordinator all in a matter of one quarter. This year's contest should be different, but the road game after Red River Shootout week makes me a little nervous about this one because Kansas State is under the radar this season.
It's also weird to think that over the past four years, the home team has lost in this series. Hopefully the trend continues just one more year, as Bill Snyder tries to figure things out with this team that was picked seventh in the Big 12 preseason poll.
6. Oct. 3rd vs West Virginia (7-6) -
The Sooners played one of their best games of the season last year in Morgantown, a 45-33 win. It was Samaje Perine's coming out party, where he rushed for 242 yards and four touchdowns. This one should be more of a defensive battle with all the experience returning from both teams on that side of the ball.
I don't think there's much of a chance for an upset here. But if the Sooners walk into this game feeling too confident the Mountaineers might find their first win over Oklahoma since 2008.
5. Oct. 10th vs Texas Longhorns in Dallas (6-7) -
I went back and fourth deciding the fourth and fifth spots, and decided to put Texas at the fifth spot after realizing Oklahoma has beaten Texas four of the past five times in this series. Charlie Strong's team has a front loaded schedule too, so Oklahoma won't be the only game circled for the Longhorns. Oklahoma has this game sandwiched between West Virginia and Kansas State, so the Sooners should be focused on beating their rival when the time comes.
Another interesting note about this game is that in Stoop's 16 seasons, the higher ranked team in this series is 14-2. Oklahoma will undoubtedly be the higher ranked team heading into this contest. Last year was a tight battle that ended 31-26 in favor of the Sooners. It could be another sloppy game, but the Sooners offense might have a field day as they often have in this series.
4. Sept. 12th at Tennessee Volunteers (7-6) -
Tennessee should be Oklahoma's most unpredictable game this season. It feels like the Sooners should win this game, but if the Volunteers finally have a break out year then then they should knock off Oklahoma at home. It also comes in week two of the football season, so we'll only have seen one game for each team before they kick off this season.
It should be a fun one in Knoxville and a close game is expected of these two college football heavyweights who are both looking to get back to the national spotlight.
3. Nov. 28th at Oklahoma State (7-6) -
The annual Bedlam series has been a must-watch college football game the past seven years or so. Last year was defined by Bob Stoops' decision to re-punt the ball to Oklahoma State in the fourth quarter, which sent the game to overtime after the second punt return went for a touchdown.
*This video may not be suitable for most Sooner fans*
Oklahoma State was picked fourth in the Big 12 preseason poll right behind the Sooners, and with this years game being in Stillwater it's sure to be another close game. It's also the final game of the season for both teams, so there's a chance this could be the Big 12 championship game or at least have some implications. This Bedlam game has no clear favorite as of right now, but it's hard to ignore Bob Stoops track record against Mike Gundy.
2. Nov. 21st vs TCU Horned Frogs (12-1) -
TCU is preseason number two, but I still have them as a slightly less difficult game than the match up against Baylor. Treyvone Boykin and the Horned Frogs offense was phenomenal last season and they also return 10 starters from that group. Last year, the Oklahoma defense allowed just one touchdown in the second half to the Horned Frogs.
Oklahoma will go up against a fierce TCU team this year, with Big 12 championship aspirations likely on the line for both teams. Most would predict that OU is 9-1 and TCU is 10-0 heading into this game, making it that much more exciting with possible College Football Playoff aspirations on the line as well.
1. Nov. 14th at Baylor Bears (11-2) -
The last two seasons, Baylor has embarrassed the Sooners. They've won three of their past four against Oklahoma even though they were winless in the series before that first win in 2011. Baylor will be loaded again this season but the Sooners weren't any where near at full strength. Sterling Shepard didn't even play, Perine only played in five plays, and Trevor Knight was knocked out of the game early in the fourth.
This year's game figures to be more competitive, but Baylor's offense should still be clicking against an unproven Sooners secondary. Oklahoma's offense should make this interesting, but I'm not sure if their defense can stop Seth Russell and Baylor's explosive receivers. The bad match up this creates make's this game the hardest game on the schedule for Oklahoma.
What do you think of the rankings? Think TCU will be more of a challenge than Baylor? Or maybe Oklahoma's non-conference games will be tougher than I think? Leave your thoughts below.