In his first season as the head coach of the Oklahoma Sooners, Lincoln Riley oversaw an undeniably successful campaign. Oklahoma reached the College Football Playoff for the second time in three years and came close to making it to the national championship game, losing to Georgia in double overtime in the semifinal.
The outlook for 2018 is somewhat more modest for the Sooners, who are considered to be the early favorite to win the conference, but not necessarily to return to the CFP. Oklahoma is without quarterback Baker Mayfield, who was drafted first overall in this year’s NFL Draft. Other talented multiyear starters are gone as well, so Riley’s squad could be in for a bit of a reset.
What will that mean in terms of wins and losses, though? In order to get a better idea about that, we take a look at Oklahoma’s 2018 schedule and offer some thoughts on what results are likely for them next season.
Here wins and losses are broken down into “Highly Likely” Wins/Losses – games in which the projected winner should be favored by more than two possessions – and “Likely” Wins/Losses – games in which the projected winner will probably be favored by about two possessions. A “Toss Up” is any game that has a good chance of being decided by one possession.
2018 FOOTBALL SCHEDULE
SEP 1 – FAU
SEP 8 – UCLA
SEP 15 – at Iowa State
SEP 22 – Army
SEP 29 – Baylor
OCT 6 – Texas*
OCT 20 – at TCU
OCT 27 – Kansas State
NOV 3 – at Texas Tech
NOV 10 – Oklahoma State
NOV 17 – Kansas
NOV 23 – at West Virginia
*Neutral Site Game
Highly Likely Wins: Army, Baylor, Kansas
Even though there are no projected CFP hopefuls on Oklahoma’s non-conference schedule, they might have some of the most losable games on their slate. There are three games where the Sooners will be heavily favored, though.
The Army Black Knights will certainly be double digit underdogs when they go to Norman. Despite going 10-3 in 2017, this is still a squad that lost to Ohio State 38-7. The Sooners might struggle with the triple option of Army, but this game should be one of Oklahoma’s more comfortable wins.
Baylor and Kansas are the lone conference foes on this list. Both combined for a total of one Big 12 win last season, so they will almost surely be underdogs to the reigning Big 12 champion.
Likely wins: FAU, UCLA, Iowa State, Kansas State, Texas Tech
Some of these games could feasibly be Toss Ups were Oklahoma playing them on the road.
The most intriguing matchup in this list is by far the Sooners’ tilt against Lane Kiffin’s Florida Atlantic Owls. Oklahoma opened as a 23 point favorite in that contest, but the line has gone down two points in less than a month. Florida Atlantic is a legitimate Top 25 team, so there is definitely upset potential in this opening day matchup.
All eyes will be on new UCLA head coach Chip Kelly as he takes on the Sooners in Norman. After returning to college football, there are some big expectations that Kelly might be able to catapult the Bruins to the same national stage that he did while he was with the Oregon Ducks. Despite Kelly’s past acumen, expect Oklahoma to be favored at home in this one.
The Wildcats and the Red Raiders have played Oklahoma tight in the past, so it’s reasonable to expect the lines on those games to be just over a possession. Likewise, even though the Sooners play Iowa State on the road, it’s hard to see that game being projected as a single score margin.
Still, any of these games could be potential upsets. The Cyclones proved last season that anything can happen on any given Saturday.
Toss Ups: Texas, TCU, Oklahoma State, West Virginia
The Sooners play three of these games away from Norman, and all of those contests are against teams projected to be around or in the top half of the conference.
TCU has a chance to make it back to the Big 12 championship if they can figure out some things along the offensive line. Even at that, the Horned Frogs defense should be hard to handle once again, and Gary Patterson is rarely ever a substantial underdog against the Sooners.
West Virginia will open the season as a Top 15 team and if they can make it to the week of Thanksgiving undefeated, this game might end up being a Big 12 championship rematch the next week. If the Mountaineers are as good as some pundits think, they might actually be favored in Morgantown.
The two remaining Toss Ups here are both against rivals for the Sooners. Their in-state rival Oklahoma State lost a lot from last season, but Vegas is high on the Pokes, considering them a possible nine-win team again. Even though that one is in Norman, it could nonetheless be a tight game.
The Red River Rivalry hasn’t had the kind of excitement it once did, but signs are pointing up for Tom Herman and the Longhorns. Texas is currently projected as a Top 25 team, and if they find themselves in the polls when the annual game in the Cotton Bowl rolls around, look for this to be close as well.
Likely Losses: None
Over the past five years, Oklahoma has rarely ever been an underdog going into a regular season game. That speaks less to the efforts of Lincoln Riley than to the guy who preceded him in Bob Stoops. Stoops brought a level of success to Norman at a time when the football program was undergoing a downturn. When you have been perennially winning double digit games in a Power Five conference, you tend to get the benefit of the doubt, even when a new person takes over at head coach.
Will Riley have the same level of success? He’s certainly off to a good start. Time will tell whether he can bring home as many trophies as Stoops, but for now it’s hard to see Oklahoma as more than a score underdog in any game on their schedule.
Highly Likely Losses: None
Have the Sooners been blown out in the past? Certainly. Just from looking at their schedule right now, though, there’s not anything that would indicate they’ll experience one of those in 2018.
Predicted Wins: 9-10
Despite the fact that they’ll likely be favored in most of the games they play, there are a couple of reasons to see this Oklahoma squad as a ten win team. One is the difficulty of going undefeated in a conference with the parity of the Big 12. Only two teams have gone unscathed through conference play in the past ten years, and neither of those squads had a first year starter at quarterback.
In addition, going undefeated is also very difficult for a team to achieve in college football, no matter your schedule. Last season, no team that entered the CFP did so without a loss on their slate. Every year, usually only two or three of 130 FBS teams end up undefeated at the close of the regular season.
With their losses on the offensive side of the ball, including one of the best quarterbacks to ever play in Norman, it is also difficult to see Oklahoma matching last year’s win total. There’s also a sneaky amount of potential for upsets in many of Oklahoma’s Likely Wins.
Given the loss of a Heisman-winning quarterback, and a handful of NFL-caliber talent, it’s reasonable to see the Sooners as a 9 or 10 win team until we know more about this team in the fall.