After winning the Big 12 Conference a league-best 11 times (including the last three straight) the Oklahoma Sooners have solidified themselves as the odds-on favorite to take home the conference crown. In fact, according to both S&P+ rankings and ESPN’s FPI, Oklahoma is currently favored in each of its 12 regular-season matchups for 2018. When switching the focus over to Vegas, the Sooners are typically favored from week to week even in instances in which it isn’t necessarily deserved. Basically, it’s likely the Sooners will be favored in 12 regular-season games even if they slip up a time or two.
Sure, being the favorite has its perks, but as Sooner fans know all too well, being the favorite doesn’t always carry a ton of weight. You’ve got Texas in 2015, Houston in 2016, and Iowa State in 2017 to name a few painful upsets in recent history, and the list gets longer and longer as you keep going back another year. Also, how many of you truly feel like an OU win is a certainty while a certain someone runs the show on defense?
So can Oklahoma navigate its schedule and avoid another confounding defeat? Which opponents are most likely to pull off the upset against Lincoln Riley and company in 2018? Feel free to give us your thoughts, and make sure to vote in the poll down below (unavailable on Google AMP and Apple News).
Here’s how I see it:
As much as it would sting for Oklahoma to lose this one, a loss here wouldn’t completely blow my mind. No matter the year, no matter the coaches, when it comes to this heated rivalry, it’s pretty much always a toss-up. The Longhorns haven’t been the Big 12 power they once were, but the Sooners’ 3-2 record in the past five Red River Showdowns shows why that hasn’t mattered much once each of these two are staring the other in the face in Dallas. Even in the last three wins, Oklahoma’s margin of victory was only five points each time.
If I were a betting man, I still wouldn’t bet on this game. I’ve been surprised by the results too many times to even be surprised anymore. Will Tom Herman’s bunch get the best of Lincoln Riley’s in the second installment of this latest chapter in the OU/Texas series? In spite of Texas’ recent struggles, the talent is there to match up with OU, and perhaps Tom Herman can do something with it in his second season. The Longhorns still need to find a consistent quarterback, but the roster’s overall talent absolutely cannot be overlooked. I never care about the margin of victory in this one just as long as that Golden Hat is on a bus back to Norman.
2. At TCU
This was a close call for me, but after careful consideration, I feel slightly more confident about Oklahoma’s chances in Fort Worth than I do about the game in Dallas. Since the Horned Frogs joined the conference in 2012, nearly every game between Gary Patterson and the Sooners has been decided by a touchdown or fewer. The only two exceptions both came in 2017, when Oklahoma played and defeated TCU twice by three possessions.
At this point, you kind of know what you’re going to get from a Patterson-coached team — sound defense, with speed and athleticism at the skill positions. Kenny Hill will need to be replaced at QB, but sophomore Shawn Robinson had a small taste of Big 12 football late last season when Hill was sidelined with an injury. Also, Robinson’s upside is quite high, so he may even be an upgrade by the time this game rolls up. If this one was in Norman, I’d feel considerably better about Oklahoma’s chances. It’s also worth noting that both squads will go into this game with an extra week to prepare.
3. At West Virginia
I might be going against the conventional grain on this one (since I know there are many who feel the Mountaineers have the best chance to supplant Oklahoma in the Big 12 this year), but consider me not quite sold. Well, not yet, at least. The offense will be stellar. That’s almost a given. But how will the defense hold up? Some solid grad transfer will plug up some of the leaks, but I’m still not sold on the quality of their depth on that side.
As you may recall, this is what Kyler Murray did to WVU’s defense on the first play of last year’s contest:
It’s worth noting that not only does Oklahoma travel to Morgantown during the final week of the regular season, but the game will also be on a Friday, so it’ll be a short week for the Sooners on the longest trip of the year. Even if it’s snowing (or especially if it’s snowing), I fully expect a fiery environment both on and off the field. The increased chippiness between these two programs has elevated the intrigue of this game, but West Virginia is still seeking its first win over Oklahoma since joining the conference. Will the seventh time be the charm for Dana Holgorsen? He certainly has the weapons to get it done, but that’s been the case on multiple occasions during that stretch.
4. Kansas State
It might have been the strangest game of Oklahoma’s 2017 campaign, but the Sooners’ trip to Manhattan fortunately didn’t end in heartbreaking fashion. In fact, it was a Rodney Anderson walk-off thriller, so the exact opposite.
With Bill Snyder still roaming the Wildcats’ sidelines, it doesn’t matter where you play K-State. The Wildcats do what they do, and it’s a tough formula to overcome. The bright side is that Oklahoma has the talent and the coaching to get the job done. By the time this one kicks off, I probably won’t be too relaxed, and I’ll be extremely relieved if Oklahoma walks off the field as victors once again. After all, the Sooners have been topped by the Wildcats in Norman twice this decade.
5. Oklahoma State
Yes, it’s Bedlam, but Oklahoma State lost quite a bit this offseason is a bit of a mystery. Still, Mike Gundy has done a great job making the Cowboys a consistent contender in the conference race in recent years and can’t be completely written off. It won’t be easy replacing QB Mason Rudolph and receivers James Washington and Marcel Ateman, but the pieces are in place to make this year’s game at least a little interesting. Running back Justice Hill is the best back in the league not named Rodney Anderson (I might be a tad biased in that regard), and a weapon of that caliber gives a team a chance to pull something off against OU’s defense. It’ll also be interesting to see what new DC Jim Knowles has up his sleeve.
6. Florida Atlantic
Ohhhh boy. I don’t want to admit to myself just how terrified I am of this game, especially after that Houston loss to open the 2016 season. It feels weird to say, but a game against Lane Kiffin’s FAU squad doesn’t exactly make me yawn. I’d expect Oklahoma to win this one going away 4 out of 5 times, but a small part of me is already preparing for the worst. The Owls took a few weeks to get going last year, but once they found their offense, they lit up the competition, and Kiffin is the main reason why.
They’ve even had the countdown going since their bowl game ended, and ex-Sooner QB Chris Robison is probably ready to show Oklahoma fans what they’re missing (provided he wins the job and doesn’t get into any more trouble). We’ll see about all that.
No talking, we just put it on tape pic.twitter.com/iiZeDApvta— Christopher Robison (@OfficialChris_R) December 21, 2017
7. At Iowa State
The revenge game...
Roughly a year after one of the most shocking home losses in school history, Oklahoma travels to Ames to take on Matt Campbell, David Montgomery, Kyle Kempt and the pesky Cyclones. This game is already slated for an 11:00 a.m. kickoff in Week 3, so both squads will just be waking up for it. As incredible as Iowa State’s 2017 season was (and as good as their 2018 season could be), I really just don’t see a repeat performance this time around — primarily due to the revenge factor. I imagine Lincoln will have his team focused on taking care of business swiftly and decisively. Don’t get me wrong — I think Iowa State is in the top half of OU’s schedule as far as overall quality is concerned, and they could definitely go bowling again. However, a pissed-off OU tends to be a dangerous OU.
Baylor won just one game last season in Matt Rhule’s first go-around as head coach, and it wasn’t against Liberty (sorry, Kansas). Still, Oklahoma needed a last-minute forced fumble from Ogbo Okoronkwo to escape Waco with an eight-point win. Cue the Mike Stoops boo-birds.
I actually expect Baylor to have a better season this year, but I’m hoping it’s not at Oklahoma’s expense. Charlie Brewer may indeed be the real deal, and it’ll be all about the Sooners’ defense once again. If they show up, Oklahoma wins comfortably. If we see more of last year’s performance, let the dramatics ensue.
The Bruins might be the biggest unknown on the schedule. Not only is this a non-conference matchup, UCLA will be in just its second game of the Chip Kelly era. Kelly proved he can transform a college program into a national powerhouse during his stint at Oregon, but now he’s starting from scratch (relatively speaking) in L.A. I think he’ll eventually find success at UCLA (hopefully not too much by 2019), but I don’t think it’ll come this September in Norman. But because there isn’t much to go off of right now, I can’t be too confident about this one just yet.
10. At Texas Tech
For the past three seasons, the big talking point going into this game was Baker Mayfield. The former Red Raider-turned-Sooner is now playing for the Cleveland Browns, but there’s still plenty of intensity surrounding this one. Kliff Kingsbury is sitting on one of the hottest seats in the nation, and the Red Raiders defense has traditionally been a national bottom dweller in several major statistical categories. But because things have a funny way of evening out against the Sooners, that’s enough cause for me to pause.
Since the game is in Lubbock, there’s no telling what they’ll be putting on those tortillas. In the event of an offensive shootout, this one may come down to the final possession, and that’s exactly what an upset-minded bunch like Texas Tech will want.
All eyes will be on Mike Stoops’ defense in this one. How fast Oklahoma can make the mental adjustment to thwart the Black Knights’ triple option attack will dictate Army’s chances of pulling off the upset. On paper, Army’s offense can be tricky, but this isn’t a team that is built to come from behind nor win in a shootout. Also, the talent gap will be wider here than in every other game on the Sooners’ schedule. Once Oklahoma goes up by a couple possessions, securing the win shouldn’t be too difficult.
Baker Mayfield Forever pic.twitter.com/mE2zNSnwnJ— Dr. Saturday (@YahooDrSaturday) November 18, 2017
After what happened last season in Lawrence and for other very obvious reasons, I don’t expect this one to be all that competitive. In reality, this one was likely destined for a major blowout regardless of last year’s happening, just by virtue of it being a match between the best on the block and the worst of the worst. The Jayhawks, for all that David Beaty has done (beat Texas and... I guess that’s about it), simply aren’t close to a level where they can conceivably compete with Oklahoma. Assuming Kyler Murray is the starter, I’ll be moderately surprised if Austin Kendall doesn’t play the entire second half. Hell, we may see Tanner Schafer, too.
Which team is most likely to upset the Oklahoma Sooners in 2018?
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