Oklahoma Football: Power Ranking the 5 Biggest Games for the Sooners in 2013

Tom Guthrie@tguthrie47Contributor IIIFebruary 1, 2013

Oklahoma Football: Power Ranking the 5 Biggest Games for the Sooners in 2013

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    Oklahoma football fans, hang in there. The 2013 regular season is fewer than seven months away.

    The Sooners' matchup with Louisiana-Monroe Aug. 31 will kick off a challenging and exciting schedule for the crimson and cream.

    In addition to the annual clash with Texas, Oklahoma must face several key conference opponents on the road. 

    There's also a key non-conference rematch to be played in South Bend, Ind., Sept. 28. The Sooners are already dreaming of payback.

    Here are the five biggest games on the Sooners' 2013 schedule. Broadly, what makes these games important are the quality of the opponent, relevance in the conference standings and/or the anticipation of the matchup. Rivalry games also get boosts because of their intrigue and implications. 

Honorable Mention

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    At Baylor (Nov. 9): Tailback Lache Seastrunk and the Bears only lost by eight points to Oklahoma last year and could surprise the Sooners in Waco, Texas.  

    West Virginia (Sept. 7): Geno Smith, Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey are gone, but the Mountaineers could test the OU secondary in an early matchup.  

No. 5: At Kansas State

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    Unfortunately for the Sooners, they have to travel to Manhattan, Kan., to face the Wildcats. 

    Fortunately for OU, it won't have to deal with quarterback Collin Klein or almost all of the 2012 K-State defense. 

    Without a doubt, losing a starting quarterback and Heisman finalist is a setback for K-State. Klein's dual-threat capabilities powered the Wildcats offense over the last two seasons. Without him, it's hard to imagine Kansas State being a factor in the national championship race. 

    Defensively, Kansas State loses almost all its starters. The key departures are linebacker Arthur Brown and cornerback Nigel Malone.

    Brown was the team's leading tackler the past two seasons and a was a force at linebacker. Malone, meanwhile, picked off five passes last season as a high-end cornerback. 

    Clearly, facing the Wildcats will be less daunting for the Sooners this time around. Nevertheless, beating Bill Snyder's team on its home turf is never easy. 

    The Sooners need to have a good showing against the team left Norman with a 24-19 victory last season. Every conference game is precious, regardless of where the Wildcats sit in the standings.

No. 4: TCU

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    Beating the Horned Frogs was a challenge for the Sooners last season. The TCU defense limited the Sooner offense, and Gary Patterson and co. flirted with an upset before losing 24-17.

    Although Gary Patterson's team has to travel to Norman, Okla. to face the Sooners in 2013, the game could be just as tight. 

    TCU quarterback Casey Pachall, who left the team early last season to undergo rehab for substance abuse, is back with the team. 

    Pachall, who was the starter from 2011 until he left the team last season, has thrown for 3,947 yards with 36 touchdowns and eight interceptions in 20 career games.

    We don't know at this point whether Pachall will regain the starting role from Trevone Boykin. Boykin threw for 2,054 yards with 15 touchdowns and 10 interceptions last season. He also ran for 417 yards and three scores.

    Offensively, the Horned Frogs lose leading receiver Josh Boyce, along with wideout Skye Dawson and linemen Blaize Foltz and James Fry. 

    Defensively, linebacker Kenny Cain appears to be the only departing Horned Frog on a unit that ranked 16th nationally in yards allowed per game in 2012. 

    This game, schedule for Oct. 5, is sandwiched between the Notre Dame and Texas contests. The Sooners rarely lose at home under Bob Stoops. But don't be surprised if TCU pulls of the upset. If OU tries to sleepwalk, TCU will pounce.  

No. 3: At Notre Dame

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    Sept. 28, 2013, is a date to burn into your mind if you're a Sooner fan. 

    That fateful Saturday will see a rematch between OU and Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind. It offers Oklahoma a chance to get vengeance on the Irish, who embarrassed the Sooners 30-13 last season. 

    Notre Dame loses several key players from last seasons' team. Linebacker Manti Te'o, tight end Tyler Eifert and receiver Robby Toma are among them.

    Also gone are the team's top two rushers, Theo Riddick and Cierre Wood. 

    Considering these departures, it's very difficult to expect the Irish to replicate their success from 2012.

    This doesn't mean Notre Dame can't be a serious contender, though. Quarterback Everett Golson, nose guard Louis Nix III and receiver TJ Jones are among key returning players.

    It should be a competitive and entertaining contest. The Sooners will be eager to redeem themselves in a high-profile matchup after falling flat last season.  

No. 2: At Oklahoma State

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    Ah, the Bedlam Game. 

    The annual bout with Oklahoma State on Dec. 7 marks the final regular-season game for OU. If last year's 51-48 overtime OU victory reminded us, this game usually has high entertainment value. 

    This year, the Sooners travel to Stillwater, Okla. for the clash. The contest comes on the heels of the Sooners' road game against Kansas State.

    Expect the conference standings to be tight when OU suits up to play the Cowboys. In addition to annual bragging rights implications, this game could be crucial in determining the Big 12 champion. 

    OSU's quarterback trio of Clint Chelf, J.W. Walsh and Wes Lunt returns intact. Leading receiver Josh Stewart (101 catches for 1,210 yards last season) is also back. 

    Luckily for the Sooners, tailback Joseph Randle and kicker Quinn Sharp are gone. Randle tallied 1,417 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns last season. Four of those scores came against the Sooners.

    Sharp's absence could be a key factor in what should be a tight game. The accomplished kicker made 50 of 59 kicks and 151 of 152 extra points the last two seasons for the Cowboys.

    We should be in for another compelling contest in the Bedlam Game. Both teams will be hungry for a rivalry win in the final game of the regular season. 

No. 1: Texas

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    The Red River Rivalry always gets special attention, and rightfully so.

    The 2013 edition will mark the 108th meeting between the two foes. OU is hoping to earn its fourth straight win over the Longhorns. 

    Based on OU's 63-21 pasting last season and UT's recent struggles, one might expect the Sooner streak to continue. But this rivalry is its own unique beast. You can throw out all statistics, trends or even logic.

    Each season, it's anyone's game.

    In fact, 2013 could see the Longhorns kill the Sooners' win streak. Quarterback David Ash made great progress his sophomore season and is poised to have a breakout junior year. 

    The Horns also have Johnathan Gray and Joe Bergeron back at tailback, along with Jaxon Shipley and Mike Davis at wideout. 

    Defensively, defensive end Alex Okafor and safety Kenny Vaccaro are the only significant losses on a youthful defense. 

    The date to circle is Oct. 12, 2013. Regardless of the usual importance in the conference standings or other factors, victory in this series always mean something special.