Oklahoma made a surprise appearance in the College Football Playoff in 2015, shaking off a loss to rival Texas in the first half of the season with a run to a conference crown. A rash of quarterback injuries across the Big 12 raised issues for some as to whether the Sooners were more lucky or good, and getting dismantled by Clemson in the Orange Bowl only added to the skepticism.
A year later, Bob Stoops' team returns the guts of its offense in star QB Baker Mayfield and backfield mates Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon. The defense lost some studs, including playmaking linebacker Eric Striker, but the secondary looks like one of the better units in the entire country.
Will the Sooners return to the final four? Athlon Sports polled a few writers to get their take on Oklahoma’s realistic 2016 win/loss projection.
Oklahoma Football Game-by-Game Predictions for 2016
Allen Kenney (@BlatantHomerism)
Right now, it looks as though three of OU's first four games will be among the biggest in all of college football this season: Houston is gaining Boise State-like buzz as a mid-major power; Ohio State is, well, Ohio State; and TCU is emerging as the consensus No. 1 threat to the Sooners' grip on the Big 12.
Get through those and the annual Red River Shootout in the first half of the year, and the rest of the schedule should be smooth sailing, right? Not exactly.
The offensive explosiveness throughout the Big 12 tends to amplify the level of wackiness. With tacticians such as Kliff Kingsbury and Dana Holgorsen lying in wait, the Sooners could find themselves in some road shootouts in the back half of the schedule. An unlucky bounce or two in games like that can turn what looks like an easy win into a stunning upset.
If defenders like linebackers Ogbonnia Okoronkwo and freshman Caleb Kelly can give OU a consistent pass rush along the lines of what the Sooners lost from Striker, Devante Bond and Charles Tapper, the Sooners might be looking at an 11-1 or 12-0 finish and a spot in the Playoff. As of now, though, two losses and a repeat Big 12 title appear more likely.
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
Out of the projected Power Five conference champions for 2016, Oklahoma would seem to have the easiest path to a College Football Playoff berth. However, the schedule does have its share of obstacles in conference play with road trips to TCU, Texas Tech and West Virginia. The non-conference portion of the schedule features matchups against Ohio State – a projected Playoff team by Athlon Sports – and Houston – the top Group of Five team for 2016. Another Playoff berth isn’t out of the question, but I think Oklahoma falls just short. With quarterback Baker Mayfield and one of the nation’s top backfields, the offense will be dynamic once again. However, how quickly will the Sooners fill the voids on the offensive line and find a new go-to receiver to replace Sterling Shepard? The defense is the bigger concern for head coach Bob Stoops, as each level of this unit was hit by departures.
Bryan Fischer (BryanDFischer)
Expectations are always high in Norman but last season's surprise run to the College Football Playoff might increase the pressure on Bob Stoops and company even more. The Sooners have what it takes though, thanks in large part to do-everything quarterback Baker Mayfield. He helps complete the best backfield in the country with Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon and that should be enough to make the team the favorite in every game they play. The defense does have to reload some playmakers however so there might be a slight drop-off on that side of the ball early in the year.
Kevin McGuire (KevinOnCFB)
The Oklahoma Sooners could very well be one of the best teams in the country, but I anticipate a disappointing start to the season marked by losses to College Football Playoff hopefuls Houston and Ohio State. That's right, a 1-2 start to the season with losses against the top Group of Five program in need of a signature win and a home loss to an Ohio State team that is ready for a big game even after replacing some key players. Once the Sooners get into Big 12 play, it's a different ball game and they will remain the team to beat as Baker Mayfield racks up the passing yards and Samaje Perine goes off on the ground to a Big 12 title. Could that help keep them in the Playoff hunt? With two losses, it will be difficult, but not entirely impossible.
J.P. Scott (@TheJPScott)
The Sooners are the prohibitive favorites to win the Big 12 in 2016 – as they should be. They are as talented as any team in the country and will likely be favored in every game the play. The issue for me is an extremely underrated schedule in terms of degree of difficulty. They have five opponents that are realistic contenders for a spot in the College Football Playoff, and that doesn't even include road trips to Texas Tech and West Virginia. Oklahoma is built to score a lot of points, but not necessarily in shootouts if that makes sense. The Sooners get Baylor toward the end of the year, and that talented team will be focused by then. A tough road trip to Morgantown is followed two weeks later by Bedlam – a toss-up no matter the location – to end the season. As talented as the Sooners are, notching double-digit wins in 2016 will be quite the accomplishment.