Oklahoma football: Several trap games on road to rest of season

NORMAN, OK - DECEMBER 3: Running back Joe Mixon
NORMAN, OK - DECEMBER 3: Running back Joe Mixon /

So far, so good for Oklahoma football. The Sooners are off to a strong start with a record of 4-0 and a big win over Ohio State notched on their belt.

But now is the point in every season when the degree of difficulty becomes more demanding. We’re into conference play now. That’s when not only the familiarity with whom you are playing is much better, but also the competition level.

It is incredibly difficult to run the table through nine conference regular-season games as the Sooners did last season. Only seven times in the 21-year history of the Big 12 Conference has a team gone undefeated in its conference schedule, and Oklahoma and Texas have both done it three times..

Oklahoma has this weekend off before taking on Iowa State, Texas, Kansas State and Texas Tech on consecutive weekends in the month of October. On paper, that lineup does not appear that daunting, and only one of the four games (Kansas State) is a true road game.

It would be a mistake, however, to write off the Sooners’ next four opponents.

The last time OU began the season with four straight wins, Texas upended Baker Mayfield and the Sooners 24-17 in their annual Red River Shootout in Dallas. Season records and rankings have proved to mean very little in this longtime rivalry series, and the Longhorns appear to have turned their season around under new head coach Tom Herman, taking then No. 4-ranked USC to overtime before falling and taking care of business on the road at Iowa State to register the team’s first Big 12 win under Herman. The two teams have split the last 12 games in the 111-game series.

When Oklahoma travels to Manhattan, Kansas, for an Oct. 21 matchup with always-tough Kansas State, it will be the Sooners most difficult road test since their magical win at Ohio State in Week 2. OU has dominated K-State in the all-time series (74-19-4). In the Bill-Snyder coaching era, however, the Sooners are just 12-8 against the Wildcats and just 3-2 in the last five games.

Ironically, OU has played better at Kansas State than it has at home against Snyder’s troops. Oklahoma has won its last six games at K-State, including a dominant 55-0 beatdown of the Wildcats in 2015, the last time the two teams squared off in Manhattan. That shutout came after the Sooners had lost to Texas the preceding weekend.

Oklahoma Sooners Football
Oklahoma Sooners Football /

Oklahoma Sooners Football

Oklahoma has won 17 of its last 18 games immediately following the Red River rivalry game with Texas. And if you haven’t figured it out by now, Kansas State comes up on the schedule this year the week after OU-Texas.

The Sooners were never seriously challenged in most all of their 11 wins a year ago, but Texas Tech came frightening close. Sooner fans will not soon forget last year’s game with Texas Tech, a 63-56 shootout in which the two teams combined for over 1,200 yards of total offense — and, oh, by the way, the Oklahoma defense yielded 734 of those yards to the Red Raiders.

Yes, the venue switches back to Norman this season and the Texas Tech gunslinger quarterback who torched the Sooner defense last season, Patrick Mahomes, is now in the NFL with the Kansas City Chiefs. Nevertheless, I would caution getting too comfortable when the Red Raiders come to town. It wasn’t that many years ago — six, to be precise — that Tech rolled into Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium and upset the Sooners 41-38, snapping OU’s 36-game home winning streak.

The Sooners are least likely to stumble against Iowa State than any of their October opponents. Oklahoma has prevailed in its last 18 games against Iowa State and has dominated the Cyclones more than any other Big 12 team, losing just five times in 81 games between the two schools.

If nothing else, October will be a superb warm up for the main act in this Oklahoma football season, which come in November and the Sooners final four regular-season weekends. OU will begin the final month of the 2017 season in Bedlam at Oklahoma State in what many experts projected before the season as a preview of the conference championship game and a rematch between the same two teams a month later.

The following week, on Nov. 11, TCU, perhaps the hottest team going in the Big 12 after four games other than the Sooners, comes to Norman for what could be the biggest games of the season for head coach Lincoln Riley’s OU team. The Sooners also host West Virginia at home during the month and travel back north, to the Sunflower state, for a date with hapless Kansas.

As long as the Sooners keep winning, they will be favored in their next eight regular-season games — the one possible exception being at Oklahoma State, a place that I hasten to point out Oklahoma has been the victor in six of the last seven games played there.

I can assure you, however, that OU will get the best shot all eight of their remaining opponents can throw at them — and I mean that literally.

Next: The 30 best games in Oklahoma football history

Everything looks really good thus far, but the rest of the season beckons, with trouble lurking within. The journey starts up again next Saturday, when Oklahoma, which has won 103 of its last 112 games at home, hosts Iowa State.