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.
11. Texas Longhorns
2015 record: 5-7
Last year vs. OU: Texas, 24-17
Why this game is dangerous: Imagine how much better Texas would be if it could complete a pass. Now, remember what Texas did to Oklahoma last year without completing one. Now, think about how Oklahoma has performed in last three Red River Showdowns. All of that together, considering that Texas will have true freshman likely starting at quarterback, should give Oklahoma a little bit of worry. There has been no team over the last three years at the Sooners have played collectively worse against that Texas. And it’s a bit of a mystery. Over those three years, the Sooners have lost twice and won once behind a couple of great returns, including Zack Sanchez's pick 6. As for this year, Texas brings an improving defense led by the Big 12 Conference preseason Defensive Player of the Year – Malik Jefferson. A pair of good recruiting classes that should start to show fruit this season bolsters this Texas team. It’s a bit of an unknown, but the potential is pretty high. And that’s scary when you think about it.
Opponent to watch: It could be a quarterback rotation, but all eyes will be on true freshman Shane Buechele, who looks like he’ll start from Day 1. In new offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert’s offense, which should be a little bit faster with a little bit more emphasis on the quick passing game, Buechele will have a better chance than most to be an adequate first-year starter. There are a lot of other players who can affect Texas’ fortunes in the Red River Showdown and the season, but Texas hasn’t had a standout quarterback since Colt McCoy left. If Buechele can be that kind of a quarterback, the Longhorns are a contender for the conference title – by next year at the very latest.
Prediction: Now that everyone is predicting this to be a close game, it’s entirely possible that Oklahoma – or Texas – blows the other out of the water. In this situation in particular, it would seem far more likely that Oklahoma would be handing out a stunningly lopsided victory. Outside of Oklahoma’s two blowout wins in 2011 and 2012, the Red River Showdown has been decided by 10 or fewer points in six of the last seven contests. This year will be a little bit different than last year’s quarterback mess at Texas, when the Longhorns used two quarterbacks but still toppled Oklahoma. Buechele should be pretty comfortable in the pocket by this point of the season, and running backs Chris Warren and D’Onta Freeman will carry the load for what should be Texas’ best running attack in many years. Texas presents a tougher test than in each of the last three games, and the results haven’t necessarily been good for Oklahoma in those contests. The Sooners take an early lead though as Baker Mayfield throws for a pair of touchdowns in the first half. But Texas’ ground game begins to take its toll to start the second half. Buechele finds enough of a rhythm to lead a fourth-quarter drive, and Texas pulls out a big victory, 31-27. It’s not Texas’ only big victory as the Longhorns finally make good for Charlie Strong and finish the season with 10 wins.