Oklahoma Football: Ranking the Sooners' Must-Win Games for 2012

Tom GuthrieContributor IIIJune 20, 2012

Oklahoma Football: Ranking the Sooners' Must-Win Games for 2012

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    2012 brings another tough schedule for the Oklahoma Sooners. With Big 12 newcomers West Virginia and TCU added to the mix, OU will have to earn every piece of a potential eighth conference championship under Bob Stoops

    For returning senior Landry Jones and the other 17 returning starters, staying in the national championship picture will require a consistently high level of play in a conference that features several teams with legitimate chances to win the Big 12 and earn the coveted automatic BCS berth. 

    With the annual Red River Rivalry clash, a Bedlam game in Norman and a non-conference bout with a tradition-rich program, Sooner fans will see plenty of good football in 2012.

    Here are the top six must-win games for OU this upcoming season. 

No. 6: Kansas State

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    Kansas State travels to Norman for the Sooners’ first conference clash. If last year’s 58-17 Sooner triumph in Manhattan means anything, the game won’t be close.

    But senior dual-threat quarterback Collin Klein will be eager to come out strong after a relatively flat showing against OU last season.

    The Sooners will face KSU off a bye week after games against UTEP and Florida A&M. Bill Snyder’s bunch would love to take advantage of a potentially rusty squad and avenge the ugly loss last season.

    The OU-KSU game will also give us an indication of whether the Wildcats' storybook 2011 regular season will be replicated in 2012. If K-State can somehow edge out the Sooners in Norman, anything is possible for Klein and company. 

    The Wildcats do return 18 starters from a squad that went 10-3 last season. They face a tough conference slate in 2012 with road games against OU, West Virginia and TCU. At least the Cats get Texas at home.

No. 5: Notre Dame

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    The Sooners meet the Fighting Irish in Norman on Oct. 27 in a compelling matchup of tradition-rich programs.

    OU is in good position to top the Irish, considering the team is rebuilding and must face the Sooners at home. Dropping this game would prove to be costly for OU’s BCS hopes and national image.

    Granted, Notre Dame could be competitive in 2012. But it’s hard to forecast its outlook at this point.

    An interesting four-way quarterback battle is ongoing. Will 2011 starter Tommy Rees keep his job, or can one of the two freshmen—Gunner Kiel and Everett Golson—steal his title? Andrew Hendrix is another option and has playing experience.

    This season is key for head coach Brian Kelly. He posted back-to-back 8-5 seasons to kick off his career for the Irish. It remains to be seen if he can bring the Golden Domers to the next level.

    Watching OU play Notre Dame will be entertaining and interesting. If the Sooners are truly worthy of winning the Big 12 or more, they should win by multiple scores. A loss would put a damper on their BCS aspirations. 

No. 4: At TCU

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    The Sooners travel to Fort Worth for their final regular-season game. The inaugural conference duel with TCU could hold conference championship implications.

    At the very least, it should be a great game.

    Junior quarterback Casey Pachall is coming off of a 2,921-yard, 25-touchdown outing and will be a key playmaker in the Big 12. His ability to adjust to the Big 12 will be a key factor in the Horned Frogs’ chances of winning the conference crown.

    Offensively, the Sooners should find success against a pass defense that ranked 63rd in yards allowed last season against Mountain West Conference competition. The more intriguing matchup will be the Sooner D against a Horned Frog offense that racked up 2,712 rushing yards in 2011.

    OU is sure to face a hostile environment at Amon G. Carter Stadium, and it’s likely the contest will have at least some conference championship implications given the outlook for both teams. 

No. 3: Oklahoma State

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    2012 is a critical year for head coach Mike Gundy and Oklahoma State. After losing star quarterback-receiver duo Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon, OSU needs to prove its 2011 conference championship was not a fluke but a harbinger of things to come.

    This season's Bedlam game will be a great platform for the Pokes to show that the tide has indeed turned in the heated rivalry.

    The Sooners were humiliated in Stillwater last season, 44-10. They will have plenty of focused motivation to go with a formidable home-field advantage for the Nov. 24 matchup in Norman.

    Can true freshman quarterback Wes Lunt make it two in a row for OSU? Or will Landry Jones take advantage of his final chance to top his team's in-state rival?

    A win for the Sooners would figure to be key in positioning them for a conference championship. The game is sandwiched by dates with West Virginia and TCU, forming a harrowing and crucial conference finale for the Sooners. 

No. 2: Texas (Dallas)

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    The Red River Rivalry is always a must-win for the Sooners. No matter what else happens in a given season, beating the Longhorns is a significant accomplishment.

    And you can forget rankings, betting lines and personnel matchups when the Crimson and Cream mix with the Burnt Orange in Dallas. Either team is capable of winning each and every year.

    The Sooners are looking to make it three straight against UT and will be in good position to do so. But Texas has momentum heading into 2012 and will be a more mature team overall.

    Although the Horns haven’t named an official starter at quarterback, David Ash and/or Case McCoy will be more confident and poised in an offense that returns nine starters.

    Defensively, eight starters are back for a defense that ranked first in the conference in yards allowed per game last season. If the D can be dominant and force more turnovers, Texas could be in the conference championship race.

    OU-Texas is always a great game to watch, and we should see an intriguing matchup this year. 

No. 1: At West Virginia

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    The Big 12 championship may come down to the Sooners vs. the Mountaineers in Morgantown on Nov. 17. Although the Mountaineers may experience growing pains as a Big 12 newcomer, they have a legitimate shot to win the conference.

    Indeed, gunslinger quarterback Geno Smith and receivers Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey spearhead a potent offensive attack that will give opposing defenses trouble once again in 2012.

    New Sooner defensive coordinator Mike Stoops will be put to the test in what could be the toughest offensive opponent for his squad.

    Of course, the Sooner offense is no slouch, and Landry Jones and Co. should put up a great fight at Milan Puskar Stadium.

    All things considered, Sooner fans should see a highly entertaining offensive fireworks show, as two highly touted teams face off the week before Thanksgiving. The bout could hold national championship and Heisman Trophy implications as well, considering Jones’ and Smith's preseason hype.