Strength of Schedule: Baylor

The Bears have dominated a series once controlled by the Sooners

For the second year in a row, Sooners Illustrated breaks down Oklahoma’s toughest games for the upcoming season. The rating system is based on the importance of a win, the strength of the opponent and a general idea of how key the game will be in terms of scheduling and performance.

It starts with the easiest game and ends up with the toughest.

12. Baylor

In 23 games against Baylor, Oklahoma has won 20 – dominating the series by winning the first 19 games up until 2010. The Bears have won three of the last four and are looking to make it 4-for-5 in Waco this season. The past two losses have been blowouts. Oklahoma has been outscored 89-26 in the past two years against Baylor. Last year’s 34-point loss to Baylor tied for the worst regular-season loss under Bob Stoops.

2014 record: 11-2

Last year vs. OU: 48-14, Baylor

Why this game is dangerous: One word: Speed. Baylor has a ton of it at every position. Baylor is pretty good, too. Quarterback Seth Russell will be in his first-year as a starter, so the Baylor offense is a bit of a wild card. Every time Baylor has gone to a different quarterback, the system has been tweaked slightly. By the time Oklahoma travels to Waco, it’ll be obvious exactly what type of offense the Bears will be utilizing. After last season’s playoff snub, Baylor will have a bit of a chip on its shoulder – out to prove that it deserves one of the four bids to the College Football Playoff this season. The entire offensive line, a 1,000-yard rusher and two 1,000-yard receivers are returning for next season. That’ll make Russell’s transition an easy one. Returning nine starters on defense should help the transition, too.

Players to watch: Shawn Oakman vs. Josiah St. John takes center stage. Potentially the top-ranked defensive end (maybe player) in the 2016 NFL Draft vs. a first-year starter at tackle. All-American candidate vs. a junior college transfer. Yeah, it doesn’t look great in favor of St. John – or Oklahoma for that matter. That’s the match-up that the Sooners will have to win, though. There won’t be much help on the outside there. St. John will be helped by the scheme this year more than if the Sooners were still in a run-heavy offense. There will be a few plays where it’ll be a one-on-one island, and St. John will have to hold off Oakman for four seconds or more.

Prediction: Baylor. TCU. Oklahoma State. That’s how the Sooners will end their season, and it starts with a trip to Waco. Oklahoma took a 14-3 lead last year only to watch Baylor dominate the final three quarters, scoring 45 unanswered points to end the season. That extensive run won’t happen again this season because Baylor doesn’t need to score that many points late. The Bears take an early lead after a dominant first-quarter defensive performance – allowing just one score. Oklahoma rallies but can’t make up the entire 17-point gap that the Bears built in the first quarter-and-a-half. Baylor holds on, 35-24.

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