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Post Why not Oklahoma?

Thursday May 27, 2010

Phil Steele has credibility to burn among the college football punditry, so his preseason placement of Oklahoma at #1 has us all scrambling today to justify the pick. Oklahoma? Not Alabama or Texas or Ohio State? In a season that seems as up in the air as any since 2007, there’s not much conventional wisdom to tell us otherwise. Matt Hinton looks at some of the factors that led to an 8-5 season last year in Norman and concludes that “a healthy, rejuvenated Oklahoma makes about as much sense at No. 1 as anyone else.”

Oklahoma doesn’t have to be a great team; they only have to be better than everyone on their schedule. Here’s their path:

Sept. 4 — Utah State
Sept. 11 — Florida State
Sept. 18 — Air Force
Sept 25 — @ Cincinnati
Oct. 2 — Texas (Dallas)
Oct. 16 — Iowa State
Oct. 23 — @ Missouri
Oct. 30 — Colorado
Nov. 6 — @ Texas A&M
Nov. 13 — Texas Tech
Nov 20 — @ Baylor
Nov. 27 — @ Oklahoma State
Dec. 4 — Big 12 Championship (Dallas)

The nonconference schedule is respectable but not ridiculously daunting. The visit from FSU will tell us a lot, but it will be a home game for Oklahoma and still early in Jimbo Fisher’s turnaround project. The trip to Cincinnati looks interesting, but it’s not last year’s Bearcat team.

Hopes for a championship season, as usual, come down to the Texas game. Both teams will have been tested by some quality opponents by that point. The Longhorns are the best team on the schedule, and claiming that win after an undefeated September would have the Sooners shooting up the Top 10.

If Oklahoma can make it past Texas, the rest of the schedule becomes a challenge of avoiding the upset. Several of those teams will have fair seasons, but none should be favored over a top 15 team. Yes, A&M should be better, and it’s a road game. A visit from Texas Tech could prove interesting if only for the Tuberville factor. The rivalry game with OSU is another challenging road game, but this Cowboy team doesn’t come into 2010 with nearly the expectations of the 2009 squad. They wouldn’t have to face Nebraska until a potential meeting in the Big 12 championship game.

We’ll know by the end of September whether or not Oklahoma is able to claim contender status. There are several potential pitfalls along the rest of the way, but a team with Top 10 aspirations should be able to circle the FSU and Texas games and then take care to not get caught asleep on the road. Even a loss to Texas doesn’t necessarily sink the Sooners. If the season proves to be as wide-open as 2007, a single loss could still leave them in good shape to win the conference and rise to the top of the rankings.

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