For the second straight year, the Sooners' non-conference schedule is undoubtedly the toughest in the Big 12—not that it is a hard feat in the Big 12, a conference that has a plethora of teams that schedules cupcakes as not only a rule but a philosophy.
Kansas State, Texas Tech, and A&M are notoriously horrible schedulers, and although the philosophy definitely helped Bill Snyder build something at Kansas State, it seems to have been contagious, as teams like Kansas have opted to go for another payday instead of testing their team's mettle before the conference season starts.
OU was once one of the offenders that notoriously scheduled cupcakes but has made huge strides in the past few years in scheduling big-name teams from well-known conferences.
And why not?
It was a blessing last year when the BCS formulas took the strong non-conference schedule and used it to break a virtual tie in the polls, which sent the Sooners to not only the Big 12 championship game, but eventually the National Title game.
Top teams from other conferences should be aware of the computer component and that strength of schedule still matters to the BCS polls.
This year the Sooners look to have another big advantage in the non-conference schedules over the rest of the Big 12, especially Texas, who ranks among the bottom of the Big 12 in non-conference schedules.
That does not bode well for Texas, who has a trip to Stillwater on their schedule and has notoriously played poorly there before picking it up and making a last minute comeback.
Another three-way tie would be disastrous for the Longhorns, as the Sooners and Oklahoma State have much tougher non-conference schedules, and Texas would likely fall behind one or both in the BCS polls in case of a three-way tie.
Most major publications that have published a top non-conference schedules list have OU in the top 10 nationally as well as No. 1 in the Big 12. It all starts with BYU in the New JerryWorld in Arlington and then a virtual bye against Idaho State before they face Hurricanes back to back with a trip to Miami and home game against Tulsa.
Let's take a look at these teams.
OU deserves credit for this one. Last season they lost one of their games when a school backed out, but the Sooners found a quality replacement and a tough challenge instead of signing up for another cupcake for a sure payday.
The game will be the first football game played in the new Dallas Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas—a fact that irks many Longhorn fans, as many are also Cowboy fans.
BYU is coming off a 10-win season in which they finished second in the up and coming Mountain West Conference. The Mountain West may not have a BCS-level conference top to bottom, but the top teams have been so successful lately that is as hard to call them a mid-major without a little chuckle.
Ask Alabama if it is a mid-major after Utah punched them in the mouth in a way that no SEC team could last season.
BYU has one of the best QBs in the country returning in Max Hall. Mix in RB Harvey Unga, three talented receivers coming off their mission years, and a good TE in Dennis Pitta, and no doubt BYU will have a good offense.
However, it won't be great because they lost over half of their offensive line, forcing Unga to have to create holes on his own and Hall to see much more pressure this year.
The biggest place to doubt the Cougars is on defense. While this is usually a big strength of BYU, they lost a lot of depth last year, and their secondary is a huge question mark. The defense won't be the strength of the team this year like it was last.
One bright spot of defense will be the line with All-American-caliber DE Jan Jorgensen. They also have two good linebackers returning in Coleby Clawson and Matt Bauman.
The one big blemish in OU's non-conference scheduling is that they continue to schedule one FCS opponent every year, and lately they have not even been good FCS teams.
While I like the idea of one cupcake to start the season, there are plenty of perennial cellar dwellers in the bowl subdivision.
This year their FCS opponent is Idaho State, who had a 1-7 record in the Big Sky Conference last year.
No disrespect to ISU, but I refuse to do a preview of them or insult your intelligence by pretending I actually know anything about the team.
All you really need to know about this game is that a win ties the program record for home winning streak at 25, cementing Norman as one of the hardest places to play in all of college football.
So on to the next opponent.
Tulsa has had "the offense" the last two years, leading the country in total yards and even outgunning the Sooners' high-powered attack in production.
This year presents some tough challenges.
The biggest is the departure of offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn to Auburn to try to fix their joke of an offense. Also, QB David Johnson leaves, along with the prolific RB Tarrion Adams.
Tulsa, after nearly two decades of cellar dwelling, has posted 10-win seasons the past two years and has made it to the Conference USA championship three of the four years since the major realignment in 2005.
So expect fireworks once again from this offense.
The cupboard is in no way bare at the QB position with athleticism to go around. Jacob Bower is the early favorite to start, but Shavodrick Beaver dropped a verbal commitment to Michigan to try to become the next great QB at TU.
Expect him to push the QBs hard for the starting position.
One place where TU has a ton of talent returning is the WR corps. This is one of the best out there and was the key to the offensive success the past two seasons. They are fast, hard to cover, and have a knack for finding holes in coverage.
While Damaris Johnson is deservedly the media darling, expect Slick Shelley to have a breakout year for the Hurricanes.
On defense they should be improved, bringing back eight from a defense that got much better last year. Their pass coverage has holes, especially because they love to play safety James Lockett up close near the line.
That's something OU will definitely look to exploit.
While this is not the epic that it could be with Miami down right now, there will be plenty of pride on the line in this battle. Miami has not been all too hospitable to the Sooners either of late, losing their last two National Championship games there.
It is hard to say if Randy Shannon turned a corner last year or not; he did have a winning season, but he failed to take advantage of a wide-open ACC field and had to settle for an invitation to the Emerald Bowl.
The upside is that the roster was full of underclassmen and still pulled off a seven-win season.
I would say there is no way to go but up, but with their schedule this year, they could actually improve as a team and see their record not improve or even go down.
The Hurricanes have a tough schedule with three top 25 opponents before OU comes to town in Florida State, Georgia, and Virginia Tech. The U will be no stranger to the top 25 when OU comes rolling into town.
Miami recruiting has been stellar the past few years, so they are stocked with young talent, especially at the skill positions. But that has not led to many wins or much offensive production.
The defense has been great at defending the pass but horrid at defending the run—something that will no doubt need to be corrected before Chris Brown and DeMarco Murray arrive in Vice City.
QB Jacory Harris should have the offense all to himself this year with Robert Marve gone. However, that may not be a good thing with his TD to INT ratio of less than two to one.
OU's defensive line will be the best he has ever seen in his young career. He may be forced into even more mistakes than normal.
There are not the big names you expect on a Miami team this year, but they do have an extremely capable RB tandem in Graig Cooper and Javarris James.
On defense, they should be much improved, but the rush defense will have its hands full against the Sooners.
One player to watch on defense is Sean Spence. Spence is an absolute beast; he is a game changer that can ruin anyone's day. If Miami is to have a chance, the defensive line and Spence must have a huge game.
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