Bob Stoops stunned the college football world in June when he stepped down at Oklahoma, leaving the Sooners in the hands of 33-year-old offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley.
As the shock wears off and talk turns to the outlook for the program under Riley, observers will find that he has to navigate a treacherous slate in his first season at the helm.
OU is garnering College Football Playoff hype this preseason, but an early trip to Columbus and tough Big 12 road dates won’t give Baker Mayfield and the Sooners much room for error.
12. Sept. 2 vs. UTEP
The last time these two teams met to start the season in 2012, the Miners put a scare into the Sooners before succumbing late. Riley would probably rather avoid that in his head coaching debut. Not much reason to think UTEP will put up the same kind of fight this time.
11. Sept. 6 vs. Tulane
Year one didn’t go so well for head coach Willie Fritz at Tulane, as the Green Wave notched a 4-8 record. His team could add a few more to the win column this season, but this game at Oklahoma won’t be one of them. Notably, this matchup comes off a road trip to Navy for Tulane.
10. Nov. 18 at Kansas
The Jayhawks are taking tiny steps towards respectability. Still, a Texas-like collapse by OU in Lawrence would be stunning. The Sooners have throttled KU by an average of 54 points the last two years.
9. Oct. 28 vs. Texas Tech
The Sooners and Red Raiders staged a shootout in Lubbock last year, but OU’s 66-59 victory was far less entertaining than the score might indicate. Tech hasn’t given OU much trouble in Norman as of late, and with so many of last season’s stars gone, the same will likely be the case this time.
8. Oct. 7 vs. Iowa State
Head coach Matt Campbell should have the Cyclones in bowl contention this season after the squad took some strides in 2016. Unfortunately, ISU draws OU coming off a bye week. That sounds like a blowout in the making.
7. Sept. 23 at Baylor
The Bears are potentially looking at a long rebuild under Matt Rhule. With the transition to new schemes on both sides of the ball, they’re probably going to feel some growing pains early in the year, too. Waco has proven to be a tough place to play in recent years, but so much change will make it tough for BU to spring an upset.
6. Nov. 25 vs. West Virginia
OU closes the season at home with a visit from the Mountaineers. The Sooners rolled WVU last season in a game that saw pregame fisticuffs turn into a chippy affair for four quarters. The ‘Eers will be motivated and could surprise OU if its season takes a turn for the worse.
5. Nov. 11 vs. TCU
The Horned Frogs always play OU tough: Every meeting between the two teams since TCU joined the Big 12 in 2012 has been decided by a touchdown or less. Gary Patterson’s team catches the Sooners in a potential letdown spot a week after their meeting with instate rival Oklahoma State. Don’t be shocked if this turns into a nailbiter.
4. Oct. 14 vs. Texas (Dallas)
Once we finally get a look at the Longhorns under new head coach Tom Herman, this matchup could move up or down a spot. Even if UT struggles out of the gate, though, Herman will have his team sky high for the annual showdown in the Cotton Bowl. The fact that two coaches in their first seasons in their jobs are meeting here adds an extra element of intrigue to this grudge match.
3. Oct. 21 at Kansas State
On the road. A week after the Red River game. Talk about a trap for OU.
The Wildcats will have to pull off at least one of their patented no-way-they-should-have-won-that-game upsets if they want to challenge for the Big 12 crown in what could be Bill Snyder’s last season. As such, OU can’t afford a letdown post-Texas.
2. Nov. 4 at Oklahoma State
In light of the reinstitution of the Big 12 conference title game, this game could turn out to be a warm-up in preparation for another tilt in December. The Cowboys will still be out for blood after the Sooners ruined their hopes of conference championships in 2015 and ‘16 campaigns. Count on a charged atmosphere in Boone Pickens Stadium in what should be a primetime clash.
1. Sept. 9 at Ohio State
It doesn’t quite carry the same gravitas as the Alabama-Florida State game in the opening week of the season. Even so, OU’s visit to Ohio State represents one of the season’s marquee non-conference clashes and a chance for both teams to solidify their early standing among the nation’s elite.
A year ago, the Buckeyes arguably put the worst beating ever on an OU team in Norman under Bob Stoops. Riley gets his chance to return the favor to Urban Meyer this year. Secretly, plenty of Sooner fans would admit that they hope the squad will just stay competitive after last season’s beatdown.
— 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.