It is never too early to start looking at next year. This series aims to take an early look at the upcoming 2017 schedule of each Big 12 team. We continue the series with Oklahoma.
Oklahoma will be entering its 18th year under Bob Stoops. Let that sink in for a second, in an era where coaches can find themselves booted out just two years after winning a National Championship, Bob Stoops has been at Oklahoma for 18 years. This speaks to several things, but primarily to winning. While some make fun of “Big Game” Bob there is a reason he has more Big 12 titles than home losses and that Oklahoma has represented the Big 12 on the national stage (especially championship games) more than all other Big 12 teams combined during his time in Norman.
2017 OKLAHOMA FOOTBALL SCHEDULE
SEP 2 – UTEP
SEP 9 – at Ohio State
SEP 16 – Tulane
SEP 23 – at Baylor
OCT 7 – Iowa State
OCT 14 – Texas (Dallas, TX)
OCT 21 – at Kansas State
OCT 28 – Texas Tech
NOV 4 – at Oklahoma State
NOV 11 – TCU
NOV 18 – at Kansas
NOV 25 – West Virginia
Oklahoma is returning a lot of pieces from a team that went 9-0 during league play and dominated the second-best team in the SEC. This team does have some questions, however. On the offensive side of the ball all eyes will be on the receiver position. Who is going to step up as the go-to guy? Also OU said goodbye to a couple of great running backs. But, name a season Stoops did not have another RB ready to step up?
There’s also concerns on the defensive side of the ball after a lackluster 2016 campaign. However, after hitting an all-time low against the one-man wrecking crew of Patrick Mahomes, OU’s defense quietly and steadily improved; shutting down the second-best receiver and third-best quarterback in the Big 12 in James Washington and Mason Rudolph in the season finale. Then they dominated the line of scrimmage against an Auburn team that had one of the best o-lines in the SEC. If that type of improvement carries over into the 2017 season, then Oklahoma could be hoisting their 8th National Championship Trophy in January 2018.
And make no mistake. For OU, that’s the goal.
Looking at the schedule, One of the things that stands out. Oklahoma will not have a lot of opportunities to really showcase themselves with potentially only three preseason ranked teams on their schedule: Ohio State, Kansas State, and Oklahoma State. Just as much as the Big 12 needs Texas to improve, so does OU. And hopefully TCU and WVU can find spots on the Top 25 as the season progresses as well.
Oklahoma is a favorite to win the Big 12 for a reason, they are projected to be very, very good. This means that UTEP, Tulane and Kansas should be all but guaranteed wins. Other games that are winnable but are a step up in competition are Iowa State, which is a potential trap game, and Baylor. The Bears have the talent, but will need to stay healthy and find some depth.
The next tier up would be TCU and West Virginia. Neither will not be easy outs. They are both dark horse challengers to the Big 12 crown. Speaking of dark horses, never underestimate the craziness of a rivalry game. Texas has proven it can beat OU, even when playing as a massive underdog.
This brings us to the three toss-up games (at least as it looks now) of the season: K-State, Ohio State, and Oklahoma State. Out of these three, the Ohio State game is the most likely to be lost. While Ohio State will have more opportunities to shine and make up for a loss, expect them to be locked in and focused and wanting the excise the ghost from last year’s playoff loss to Clemson. On top of that, the Oklahoma offense will be figuring out who their go-to receiver will be, and the Sooners have been known to take a few weeks to hit their stride. It was not until the start of conference play that they got things rolling last year.
That brings us to Kansas State and Oklahoma State. Both of these are away games. Both of these teams have the pieces for their own conference and playoff runs. The Snyder-led Wildcats always a tough game, and if it is the wizards last rodeo, expect the guys in purple to leave everything on the field. OSU will most likely have the most prolific offense (at least initially) in the league. While there are questions on defense, those questions will be answered by the time November rolls around. Expect this one to be an instant classic. If Oklahoma makes it to the Big 12 Title Game, then it is probably going to be facing either the Wildcats or the Cowboys again.
Oklahoma will have the opportunity to make the College Playoff in 2017, but the road won’t be easy. The offense under Lincoln Riley has been excellent and the defense should be improved over 2016. However, this team will need to be locked in every week this season. While the schedule is manageable, each game will have its own unique challenges. Is this the year that OU finishes the chase for eight? Only time will tell.