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Ranking the Toughest Games on Oklahoma's College Football Schedule in 2016

Baker Mayfield

Baker Mayfield

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Oklahoma enters the 2016 campaign as the odds-on favorite to win the Big 12 and a top contender for a spot in the College Football Playoff. So the schedule must be a cakewalk, right?

Related: Oklahoma Sooners 2016 Preview and Prediction

Hardly. In addition to non-conference games with mid-major flavor of the month Houston and perennial national title contender Ohio State, the Sooners have to navigate the competitive Big 12 slate. Those who pay close attention to the conference know that path is filled with landmines. (Ever been to Lubbock? Morgantown?)

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A brutal start and rough finishing kick buttress a workable middle of the season. The schedule is daunting enough to where a bad break or two could send the Sooners tumbling down the bowl pecking order. Here is Oklahoma's 12 regular season games ranked from easiest to most challenging.

12. Sept. 10 vs. ULM

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ULM is starting fresh with a new head coach, and Matt Viator gets a doozy of a road debut as he takes the Warhawks to Norman. It’s the first of three straight road games for the School Formerly Known as NLU: at OU, at Georgia Southern, at Auburn. Ouch.

Historically, Bob Stoops is loath to give his bench much time in live action, including in blowouts. However, he should use the opportunity to give his first team a break in the middle of a rough stretch of games to open the season.

11. Oct. 29 vs. Kansas

Second-year Kansas coach David Beaty still has a long way to go filling the holes left in the program by flim-flammer Charlie Weis. Count on the Jayhawks to show more signs of life this season with promising quarterback Ryan Willis leading the charge.

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Willis will lead that charge into Norman in late October and probably return to Lawrence with a spanking.

10. Nov. 3 at Iowa State

Weeknight games in Ames can get kinda dicey. Ask Texas (twice). Or Oklahoma State.

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The Cyclones probably will be lucky to stay within two or three scores, though. This team will struggle in new coach’s Matt Campbell’s first year.

Stranger things have happened, but OU will likely cruise.

9. Oct. 15 vs. Kansas State

Based on the last two times KSU has visited Owen Field, this may be underestimating Bill Snyder’s bunch. The Wildcats have had a big hand in watering down the perception of OU’s notoriously strong home-field advantage under Stoops.

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A week after the Red River Showdown, OU will need to guard against a letdown when K-State comes to town this year. Even so, Stoops’ team blasted the ‘Cats last season in a game reflective of the sizable talent gap between the two squads at this point.

8. Nov. 19 at West Virginia

The Mountaineers have hung tough in Morgantown versus the Sooners since joining the Big 12. At some point, they’re going to break through against OU.

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This doesn’t look like the year. Major losses on defense and erratic QB play from Skyler Howard will likely hamstring Dana Holgorsen’s campaign to keep his job.

When a road trip to face the ‘Eers is one of the easier games on your schedule, it’s a sign of a reasonably tough slate.

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7. Oct. 22 at Texas Tech

People in Big 12 country have waited three years for Baker Mayfield to return to Lubbock. The former Red Raider can expect a less than hospitable reception in his old stomping grounds.

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Kliff Kingsbury remains short on statement wins in his tenure at his alma mater. This one would likely qualify as his biggest yet if Tech can pull it off, and it also would buy some goodwill with a fan base growing increasingly restless.

Mayfield will undoubtedly relish the opportunity to put a big number on his former team, too. A fun shootout could be in store.

6. Sept. 3 vs. Houston (NRG Stadium, Houston)

Um, this is not the game OU signed up for. The Sooners thought they were getting kittens when they agreed a few years ago to play the Cougars. Instead, they’re squaring off against some mid-major beasts.

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Tom Herman had his squad primed to play Power 5 opponents last season as the Cougs snared Ws over Louisville and then Florida State in the Peach Bowl. In theory, the hype around UH should help keep the Sooners focused the 2016 opener, and they could have a crowd advantage despite playing in H-Town.

5. Dec. 3 vs. Oklahoma State

If everything breaks right for these two, a Big 12 title could be on the line when they meet during the last week of the season.

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Four of the last six contests between these in-state rivals have been decided by a touchdown or less, including two overtime games. That’s not a throw-out-the-record-books stat, but more a sign of how competitive the two programs have become lately.

Speaking of competitive, last season’s installment of the Bedlam rivalry was not. OU handed the Cowboys a whooping, which means the Pokes will probably be salty entering this year’s edition in Norman.

4. Nov. 12 vs. Baylor

The self-inflicted chaos at Baylor right now is clouding over forecasts for the Bears’ season. Even without Art Briles, BU still has a wealth of dangerous skill players on offense. That makes the boys from Waco a tough out, no matter the level of disarray surrounding the program.

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Frankly, though, this matchup could tumble down the list quickly if more Baylor coaches or players get booted before the season starts. (Clearly, that’s not out of the question.) There’s also the matter of retaining talented 2016 recruits looking for an out.

3. Oct. 8 vs. Texas

The Red River Showdown has provided Longhorn fans with some of the few bright spots in a dreary stretch of football. Texas has taken two of the last three games from the Sooners, and the ‘Horns should have won the third.

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Stoops and his staff have been accused of taking UT lightly as of late. Anyone who has watched the games knows that’s not true. On those three Saturdays, Bevo’s boys have played with a level of physicality that has been otherwise missing when they’ve taken the field.

If OU doesn’t put a beating on a Texas team that is once again in transition on offense, he’ll hear about it from the Sooner faithful. Sounds like a lot of pressure.

2. Sept. 17 vs. Ohio State

Despite being two of college football’s marquee teams, the Sooners and Buckeyes haven’t played since the 1970s. Now, the blue bloods are going to treat us to games in two straight years.

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If a team that recruits as well as Ohio State can have a rebuilding year, ‘16 is a likely candidate. The Buckeyes return just a handful of starters from last season. One of them is stud quarterback J.T. Barrett, however, which should keep OSU from cratering.

Ultimately, this game will come down to Urban Meyer’s stockpile of talent versus OU’s experience and home field. Sounds like a slobberknocker of a non-conference matchup. All eyes will be on Norman in week three.

1. Oct. 1 at TCU

At this point, we can all agree that Gary Patterson just has Stoops’ number.

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Yes, TCU is just 1-3 against OU since the Horned Frogs joined the Big 12 in 2012. However, the series has quickly turned into the most exciting in the league, with Patterson’s teams playing the Sooners down to the wire in each of the three defeats.

Oklahoma’s disappointing slide in 2014 started with an upset loss at Amon Carter Stadium. TCU, a dark horse candidate to win the conference, will look to get the upper hand in the standings once again with a win in the Big 12 opener for both squads.

— 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.