For the third year in a row, Sooners Illustrated breaks down Oklahoma’s most important 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.
9. Baylor Bears
2015 record: 10-3
Last year vs. OU: Oklahoma, 44-34
Why this game is dangerous: This game has certainly changed over the last 30 days. Baylor lost its head coach to scandal and then a flood of players de-committed or left entirely, leaving new coach Al Grobe with a few major holes to fill. The Bears still have starting quarterback Seth Russell, who might be the second-best quarterback in the Big 12 Conference by the end of the season. This isn’t a team completely bereft of talent, either. That decline will come much later, but for at least one more season, Baylor still has a lot of skill. This isn’t the RG3 and company Baylor Bears, which still likely won’t repeat as the top offense in the country. Behind a talented running attack and a do-enough kind of defense, the Bears still have a shot at the college football playoff and a one-loss season. This game, which comes on Nov. 12, might also be a last hurrah of sorts for Baylor as well. If the season slips, and there’s a chance it might without Art Briles guiding the team, this could be a desperation week. There’s a dark cloud looming on 2017 for Baylor, and this matchup in Norman might be Baylor’s last chance for a good feeling before the walls come crashing down – so to speak. So think of it this way: Baylor could either be running toward the Big 12 Championship or desperate to win a big game before the curtain falls.
Opponent to watch: It starts and ends with the quarterback, right? Russell is the player that can right the ship for the time being, and he’ll need to do so alone without Jarrett Stidham on the roster. KD Cannon will need to come up huge as well, stepping in Corey Coleman’s role as the No. 1 receiver. Baylor desperately needs to find a hole in the middle of its defensive line with the departure of Andrew Billings – a first-team All-American last year. But the big hole is on the offensive line, where Baylor is replacing four starters, including two-time All-American Spencer Drango. Keep an eye on whoever fills that spot – in talent and leadership.
Prediction: Baylor will be coming off a game against TCU, which potentially could be the Bears’ first lost of the season. Oklahoma might be hitting its stride in the final month of the season. No matter the records, it’ll be likely that Oklahoma won’t have forgotten the home field beating that it took two years ago from Baylor, which was the last time Trevor Knight started for the Sooners – kind of the end of an era. Mike Stoops and Bob Stoops won’t forget that big loss or the gapping and sorry performance by the Sooners’ defense. There won’t be too many aerial fireworks in this game. Instead, there will be a ton of yards gained on the ground. Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon vs. Shock Linwood and Johnny Jefferson: Both run defenses have lost a lot from last season, and with potentially four of the ten best running backs in the conference on the field at one time, it could be a show. It’s a showdown that Oklahoma wins though – surprisingly easily. Sooners hold a two-touchdown lead for much of the second half, 35-24.