The Oklahoma Sooners are looking to win their fifth Big 12 title in a row in 2019 and earn a fourth bid to the College Football Playoff. With four of their conference mates breaking in new head coaches this season, getting back to the top of the conference will require navigating what looks like a forgiving schedule.
However, OU still faces a handful of potential landmines, such as an early road game versus the UCLA Bruins and a visit to Waco to take on the Baylor Bears. Rivalry games against the Texas Longhorns and Oklahoma State Cowboys also loom large.
Here’s a look at the Sooners' 2019 schedule, with the 12 games ranked from least to most difficult.
12. Sept. 7 vs. South Dakota
With OU opening the season on Sunday of Labor Day weekend, the Coyotes are getting the Sooners on short rest. That’s about the best thing that can be said for the FCS team’s chances in this matchup.
If the Sooners do lose to South Dakota, which went 4-7 in 2018, it would be a titanic upset.
11. Oct. 5 at Kansas
The Jayhawks haven’t beaten OU since 1997. New head coach Les Miles could earn some faith in his rebuild project by ending that streak in Lawrence in his first season. Nothing about the state of the team Miles is inheriting suggests that will happen, though.
The Sooners have Texas on deck, so their heads may be elsewhere when they take the field. That could keep KU close for longer than expected.
10. Oct. 26 at Kansas State
Chris Klieman is another first-year head coach in the Sunflower State with some heavy lifting ahead of him. Bill Snyder left him a roster that looks ill-equipped to survive the Big 12 slate – let alone able to hang with the league’s power program.
OU will enter this contest on the tail end of a five-game stretch, so the Wildcats will probably see a worn-down team. It likely won’t matter to the final result.
9. Oct. 19 vs. West Virginia
The Mountaineers have yet to defeat OU since joining the Big 12 in 2012, although they came close in last season’s 59-56 shootout in Morgantown. With Dana Holgorsen handing over the reins, it now falls on new head coach Neal Brown to try to end that run of futility.
Could WVU catch the Sooners napping a week after OU takes on Texas? Even if they glean a few insights into Lincoln Riley’s offense from transfer quarterback Austin Kendall, offseason casualties on defense mean the Eers will have a tough time keeping OU out of the end zone. They likely lack the firepower to keep up in another shootout, so ending the losing streak probably isn’t in the cards in 2019.
8. Sept. 1 vs. Houston
Dana Holgorsen, by the way, can’t get away from the Sooners, as his first game with the Houston Cougars will take place in a rare Sunday night tilt in Norman.
Oddsmakers have installed OU as a healthy favorite over UH in the season opener. The last time that happened in 2016, the Cougars scored a major upset of the Sooners to kick off the season.
The transition to a new coaching staff at UH makes a repeat of 2016 unlikely. However, Holgorsen has plenty of time to cook up a game plan and a dynamic QB in senior D’Eriq King to exploit OU’s beleaguered defense.
7. Sept. 28 vs. Texas Tech
Matt Wells inherits a situation with slightly more potential for success this season than the other new head coaches in the Big 12. The Red Raiders' roster includes four returning starters on the offensive line, experienced QBs in Alan Bowman and Jett Duffey, and five returning starters on defense. Tech lost three games last season by eight points or less, too, so they weren’t far off from a decent record.
Kliff Kingsbury’s teams possessed a knack for hanging tough against the Sooners. We’ll find out if Tech can keep that up under Wells.
6. Nov. 23 vs. TCU
The Horned Frogs slogged through a frustrating 7-6 campaign in ‘18 that included a 52-27 beatdown from the Sooners in Fort Worth. TCU head coach Gary Patterson doesn’t take that kind of thing lightly, and you can count on him to have a plan in place on defense to fluster new OU quarterback Jalen Hurts. Fortunately for the Sooners, they should be settled into a groove by late November when the two teams square off in Norman.
5. Nov. 9 vs. Iowa State
The Cyclones return to the scene of a 2017 upset that helped launch ISU as one of college football’s up-and-coming programs. They also made the Sooners sweat last season before OU escaped Ames with a 37-27 victory. If the Clones win in Norman in 2019, they will solidify themselves as more than just innovative upstarts.
ISU needs to find capable replacements for running back David Montgomery and receiver Hakeem Butler to make that happen.
4. Nov. 16 at Baylor
Head coach Matt Rhule has the Bears on the ascent in the Big 12. No one should expect them to contend for the league title yet, but they have serious spoiler potential this season.
When these two teams last met in Waco in 2017, Baylor nearly shocked the Sooners. Can they go the extra mile against OU this year? With prolific QB Charlie Brewer returning to throw to senior Denzel Mims and a cadre of dangerous receivers, the Bears won’t lack for firepower.
3. Sept. 14 at UCLA
It may seem surprising to find a team that went 3-9 last season and lost to OU by four touchdowns at No. 3 on this list. The Bruins took major steps forward by the end of Chip Kelly’s first year at the helm, though. With a combined 17 starters back in 2019, UCLA is on track to be one of the most improved teams in the nation and a dark horse in the Pac-12.
OU’s trip to the Rose Bowl in week three will mark the first road starts for four new starters on the offensive line. That could leave QB Jalen Hurts vulnerable to some heat from an experienced defense.
All in all, this looks like a far different challenge from OU’s matchup with the Bruins in ‘18.
2. Nov. 30 at Oklahoma State
Speaking of wild games, OU made a 48-47 escape in the Bedlam Rivalry a year ago. A failed two-point try by the Cowboys made the difference in the outcome, a testament to just how close the game actually was.
The action shifts to Stillwater this fall, with the two squads facing off on Thanksgiving weekend. That gives OSU head coach Mike Gundy all season to sort out the situation at quarterback. The Sooners should expect the Pokes to be firing on all cylinders.
1. Oct. 12 vs. Texas (Dallas)
The Longhorns won the Golden Hat last year in an epic 48-45 upset that should go down as one of the most exciting contests in the history of the Red River Rivalry. The Sooners got a measure of revenge in the Big 12 Championship Game two months later, but don’t doubt for a second that OU wants payback.
The last five meetings between these two teams in the Cotton Bowl have been decided by a touchdown or less. No reason to think this year’s edition will be any different.
— Written by Allen Kenney, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Kenney is founder and editor of BlatantHomerism.com and host of the Blatant Homerism Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @BlatantHomerism.