Can the Sooners return to the top of the Big 12?
2013 is shaping up to be an interesting year in the Big 12. Six or seven teams have a case to be picked No. 1, so this could be one of the more entertaining (and wide-open) conference title races in the nation.
Oklahoma has won at least 10 games in six out of the last seven years, but the Sooners won’t start out as the favorite to win the Big 12 title. For most, that distinction belongs to their in-state rival Oklahoma State or a Texas team that finally seems to be pointed in the right direction.
Although the Sooners weren’t picked at media days as the preseason conference favorite, Bob Stoops’ team will be in the thick of the Big 12 title discussion this year. New quarterback Blake Bell will have his growing pains, but the junior should be solid once he gets more experience under his belt. The defense has to be concerned about the lack of depth in the trenches, but there’s still plenty of talent to help keep Oklahoma in the mix for 10 or more wins in 2013.
What will Oklahoma's record at the end of the 2013 regular season? Athlon’s panel of experts debates:
Oklahoma's 2013 Game-by-Game Predictions
|9/7 West Virginia|
|9/28 at Notre Dame|
|10/12 Texas (Dallas)|
|10/19 at Kansas|
|10/26 Texas Tech|
|11/7 at Baylor|
|11/16 Iowa State|
|11/23 at Kansas State|
|12/7 at Oklahoma State|
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
Anything from 8-4 to 11-1 is possible with Oklahoma this year. With the rest of the Big 12 also in transition, the Sooners shouldn’t slide too much in the win column after finishing 10-3 last season. Oklahoma’s Big 12 title hopes will rest on the development of quarterback Blake Bell, along with a defense that ranked ninth in the Big 12 in rush yards allowed and 50th nationally in points allowed in 2012. The defense isn’t short on talent, but the Sooners have to be concerned with the depth in the trenches, along with how three new starters in the secondary blend together. Until the defense finds its footing, Oklahoma will need to lean on an offense that has one of the nation’s top lines, along with a deep group of receivers and running backs. Bell has to prove he can be more than just a specialty package quarterback, but games against ULM, Tulsa and West Virginia will give him an opportunity to get comfortable as the starter, especially before key contests against Notre Dame, TCU and Texas. And it wouldn’t be a surprise if the Big 12 title is decided on Dec. 7 in the Bedlam series with Oklahoma State.
Chris Williams, (@ChrisMWilliams), CycloneFanatic.com
This is a team that will go as far as its quarterback allows it to go in 2013. While I’m assuming that Blake Bell (assuming he wins the job) isn’t Landry Jones, I also don’t see him as a bust either. Due to the fact that Norman has, is and always will be one of the toughest places to play in all of college football, that sure helps mask the fact that Bob Stoops has to replace one of the best signal-callers in program history along with a load of defensive players. I see the Sooners getting through its first five games unscathed with a loss to Texas in the Red River Shootout. But should OU pull that rivalry game off then watch out. All in all, I see this a very Bob Stoops-like season in 2013 for the Sooners in route to a solid 9-3 finish.
Allen Kenney, @BlatantHomerism, BlatantHomerism.com
Oklahoma appears to have hit a plateau as of late, and I don't think that changes this year. The Sooners will be breaking in a new quarterback - most likely Blake Bell - and have some serious work to do in getting their defense back up to par. On top of that, they have one of the most difficult schedules in the country, catching almost all of their best opponents away from Norman.
Six games look like coin flips to me: at Notre Dame, TCU, Texas, at Baylor, at Kansas St. and at Oklahoma St. I'd peg the Sooners to go 3-3 in that stretch; the harder part is figuring out which of those are Ws and which are Ls. No matter where the losses come from, I don't see this team winning the conference.
Bob Stoops might get a bounce in the public opinion polls with a bowl win. Still, you can bet that the debate about his ability to get the Sooners back to the top of the college football world will only intensify with that kind of season.
Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
Bob Stoops is playing it coy about his starting quarterback, but there is no reason the uber-talented Blake Bell won't be a star this year in Norman. The offensive line is strong and the playmakers are a-plenty so the offense should be in great shape. However, it is the defense that is trending in the wrong direction and returns only four starters. But when in doubt, go with Stoops over most any other coach in the Big 12. The key to a league title for Oklahoma will be what happens in the Big 12 and whether or not an 8-1 record be good enough to win the league. The Sooners could easily win the league even with a loss to Oklahoma State. This will be one of the most wide-open conferences in the nation and it means the Crimson and Cream could lose to Texas, Baylor, Kansas State and the Pokes — or run the table and finish unbeaten in the league.
David Fox (@DavidFox615)
The most important game on Oklahoma’s schedule may be the TCU game. The early part of the schedule isn’t easy. ULM, West Virginia and Tulsa will all test the Oklahoma defense, though I’d expect the Sooners to handle all three. A trip to South Bend will be tough and the first major test for the new Oklahoma QB. TCU, though, will set the tone for the rest of the Big 12 season. The Horned Frogs are legitimate conference contenders. Like Notre Dame, TCU has a defensive front that matches up with Oklahoma’s strength on the offensive line. With that game back in Norman, I’m taking the Sooners. After that, I’m picking Oklahoma in the Red River Shootout until Texas proves me wrong. For the final month of the season, Oklahoma will have to avoid a Big 12 road loss, something that’s been tough for the Sooners in recent years. Baylor may be the tougher matchup for Oklahoma than Kansas State in 2013, but I’ve picked OU to win both. That may set up a de facto Big 12 title game against Oklahoma State. Why did I pick the Cowboys? This season, I think we can consider the rivals on equal footing, and I’ll go with the home team if we’re going to make these picks in July.
Oklahoma is somewhat hard to figure out since they have an unproven starting quarterback in Blake Bell and only four starters returning on defense. That said, there is no lack of talent in Norman on either side of the ball, which is why I think Bob Stoops will find a way to get 10 wins in the regular season.
This victory total includes beating Notre Dame in South Bend, although I do have the Sooners falling at home to TCU the next week. OU will rebound nicely against Texas in the Red River Shootout and finish out strong, losing only to Oklahoma State to close the regular season out.
As optimistic as I am on this seemingly mysterious team, I will say that the Sooners' margin of error is probably as small as it has been since Stoops has been in charge. By that I mean, 10-2 could easily end up being 8-4 or worse, especially if Bell doesn't pan out as a passer and the defense experiences sustained stretches of growing pains.
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