Oklahoma football: Ranking OU’s remaining games from least to most difficult

Oct 15, 2022; Norman, Oklahoma, USA; Oklahoma Sooners wide receiver Gavin Freeman (82) makes a diving catch past Kansas Jayhawks cornerback Cobee Bryant (2) during the first half at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 15, 2022; Norman, Oklahoma, USA; Oklahoma Sooners wide receiver Gavin Freeman (82) makes a diving catch past Kansas Jayhawks cornerback Cobee Bryant (2) during the first half at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports /

A week-plus now separates the momentous Oklahoma football win over Texas from the rest of the season, and as everyone knows there’s still a half a season remaining to be played with no gimmes in between.

The undefeated and No. 6-ranked Sooners return to action this weekend with a home date against quarterback Dillon Gabriel’s former team, the Knights of Central Florida (UCF). After that, OU faces a five-team gauntlet of Kansas, Oklahoma State, West Virginia, BYU and TCU.

Oklahoma’s combined record against the six remaining teams on the regular-season schedule is 199-57-13, a winning percentage of .766. The Sooners are 0-2 against Big 12 newcomer BYU and have never played UCF in football.

Head coach Brent Venables knows that it’s easy to get too comfortable with the early achievements and mismanage that success going forward.

“Mismanaged success is a very normal thing when you’re in these positions,” the OU head coach told reporters last week. “So keeping two hands on the wheel, white-knuckle, grip with both hands is something we’re really focused on.”

Venables believes the back half of the Sooner schedule is more challenging than the first half.

“We should have an expectation of improving and getting better,” he said.

Here is how we would rank the remainder of the Oklahoma schedule from least challenging to most challenging.

UCF Knights, Oct. 21 in Norman

Even though Oklahoma and UCF have never met on the football field, the two programs do have something in common. Current Sooner quarterback Dillon Gabriel began his college career at UCF. His freshman season, the UCF offensive coordinator was Jeff Lebby, who is now at OU, and his head coach his first two seasons was former Sooner quarterback and offensive coordinator Josh Heupel.

The two teams are at opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of Big 12 wins and losses. UCF won all of its nonconference games but is still winless (0-3) in the Big 12 heading into the game against the Sooners.

UCF leads the Big 12 in total offense, averaging 516 yards per game. The Sooners are right behind, averaging 506 yards per game. The big difference will be on the defensive side of the ball where Oklahoma holds a big advantage, allowing 13 fewer points per game.

TCU Horned Frogs, Nov. 24 in Norman

Given that TCU went to the College Football Playoff last season and advanced to the national championship game, losing to two-time national champion Georgia, you would deduce that this would be a bigger matchup for Oklahoma. But this year’s TCU team has struggled through the first six games and is not the same team as a year ago. Through seven games, the Horned Frogs are 4-3 overall and 2-2 in Big 12 play. Their two wins are over conference newcomers Houston and BYU.

Oklahoma is 10-2 against TCU as a member of the Big 12. The last time TCU won in Norman was in 2005. OU has won six straight over TCU when playing in Norman since then. This is the Sooners’ final game of the regular-season, and a trip to the conference championship game could be on the line. More incentive for OU to prevail in this one.

West Virginia Mountaineers, Nov. 11 in Norman

If you haven’t noticed before now. There is a pattern forming here. The three games projected to be the least challenging for Oklahoma over the remaining schedule are all home games for the Sooners. Given that the Sooners have only lost 13 games at home since the beginning of the 1999 season, it is a fair assumption that they will take care of business at home in their remaining three home games of 2023.

The Mountaineers are 2-1 in the Big 12 through three conference games, 4-2 overall. Their conference wins are over Texas Tech and TCU along with a loss at Houston. Oklahoma is 11-3 all-time in games with West Virginia. As members of the Big 12, though, the Sooners are 9-1, the one loss coming last season, 23-20, at West Virginia.

@Oklahoma State Cowboys, Nov. 4 in Stillwater

With Oklahoma leaving for the SEC after this season, this could be the final Bedlam rivalry game for the foreseeable future. It is also the earliest in the schedule this game has been played since 2007Oklahoma has dominated the series, which dates back to 1904, with a record of 91-19-7, including 17 of the last 20. The Cowboys don’t appear to be as strong this season as they have been in the recent past, but that doesn’t really matter when it comes to a longtime rivalry like this. Moreover, the game is being played in Stillwater, which is one of the toughest places to play in the Big 12.

The Sooners are 8-2 in their last 10 visits to Boone Pickens Stadium in Stillwater. Oklahoma is likely to get to this game with an 8-0 or 7-1 record. It is also the week after the Sooners play at Kansas, which could have an impact on OU’s physical and mental conditioning coming into this rivalry matchup.

@BYU, Nov. 18 in Provo

Oklahoma is 0-2 all-time against BYU and the Sooners have never played in Provo, Utah, where BYU is always tough to beat and the elevation is higher. The Cougars are undefeated at home through three games this season with an average margin of victory of 30-14. This will also be BYU’s home finale for the 2023 season, which will provide the home team with some extra motivation. This sets up as a perfect “trap game” environment for Oklahoma.

@Kansas Jayhawks, Oct. 28 in Lawrence

Kansas is having a very good season with a 5-2 record through six games and 2-2 in the Big 12. This is not your grandfather’s Jayhawk team — although as a grandfather myself I can tell you that Kansas had some pretty good teams in my youth. The Jayhawks rank third in the Big 12 in scoring and have probably the best running back combination in the conference. QB Jalon Daniels has been injured and has played in just half the games to date, but when he is on the field, he presents a true dual-threat and has the weapons to create problems for any defense.

Oklahoma has won 18 consecutive games against the Jayhawks, but as everyone knows past performance has little or no bearing on present performance. This Kansas team is very capable of knocking off the Sooners. And OU fans will recall the last visit to Lawrence, Kansas, in 2021, when Kansas led 10-0 at halftime and 17-14 entering the fourth quarter. Led by QB Caleb Williams, the Sooners on three straight possessions in the final quarter, putting up 21 points and 170 yards of offense in the final frame to avoid defeat and pull out a 35-23 victory.

It will be homecoming at Kansas for this game, which will give the Jayhawks even more incentive to take down the probable Big 12 leaders and knock them from the unbeaten ranks.