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Previewing The Oklahoma Sooners 2012 Schedule (Part 1 of 2)

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NORMAN, Oklahoma -

The Oklahoma Sooners have shown over the past few seasons they are not afraid to play a tough schedule year in and year out, and 2012 is no exception. This season, the Sooners will take on six teams ranked in preseason polls, and eight teams that went to a bowl game in 2011. will be taking a look at the opponents for the Sooners this season in a two-part series. Here's a breakdown of each of the Sooners' opponents in the first half of the season.

9/1 @UTEP

The Miners are coming off a 5-7 season, their sixth consecutive season finishing under .500. While head coach Mike Price has taken the Miners to two bowl games in his seven seasons, he's just 45-52 overall. The Miners could have a decent passing attack, led by senior quarterback Nick Lamalson. However, they have no experienced running backs to bring balance to the offense. The Miners lost 1,634 of the 1,859 rushing yards gained in 2011, and have no proven running backs to take the place of the lost running backs. There are quality targets at the wide receiver position, and a nearly intact offensive line to work behind for Lamaison. The pieces are there for a good passing attack, but without a rushing attack, it could be difficult to keep defenses honest. Defensively, only four starters return, but fresh blood could be the key to improving the defense that finished 104th in total defense last season. Two starters return in the secondary, so there could be a strength from that unit. The Sooners should have no problem in El Paso, despite the 9:30 p.m. kickoff.

9/8 Florida A&M

The Sooners' only FCS opponent in 2012 is coming off a 7-4 season in the MEAC last season. The Rattlers also return four all conference selections from the 2011 season. Offensively, the Rattlers return sophomore quarterback, who passed for over 1,600 yards last season as a true freshman. The top two running backs return as well Eddie Rocker and Al-Terek McBurse rushed for over 850 yards and seven touchdowns, averaging 5.8 yards per carry. Leading receiver Lenworth Lennon is back as well, but behind him is an unproven group of young receivers. Florida A&M will need several of them to step up if they want to make a run in the FCS playoffs this year. Defensively for the Rattlers, just three of the top eight tacklers from a year ago are returning, led by linebacker Brandon Hepburn, who made 63 tackles last season. The secondary should be a strong point, as both starters from a year ago return. Unfortunately for OU fans, the Florida A&M band is still suspended, so they won't be making the trip to Norman. Shame, because it most certainly would have been the most exciting part of the game.

9/22 Kansas State

Kansas State was the country's most surprising 10-win team a year ago, and they're back for more in 2012. The Wildcats return 14 starters from their 2011 squad, including do-everything quarterback Collin Klein. Klein rushed for 1,141 yards and 27 rushing touchdowns last season, an FBS record for quarterbacks. However, he also led the Big 12 in rushing attempts with 317. Head coach Bill Snyder would like to see Klein's rushing attempts go down and his passing numbers (1,918 yards, 13 TDs, 6 INTs) improve. Leading rusher John Hubert (970 yards) and leading receiver Chris Harper (547 yards) also return, as well as kick return whiz Tyler Lockett, who took two kickoffs to the house in 2011. Defensively, the Wildcats are led by middle linebacker Arthur Brown and cornerback Nigel Malone, both among the best in the nation at their position. The Wildcats will need to improve in the secondary, where the Wildcats were 103rd in the country in pass defense. The Wildcats have a lot of talent, but may not be able to duplicate last season's success. The Wildcats won eight of their 10 games by a touchdown or less. However, the schedule does look favorable, with KSU's only tough games on the road being Oklahoma, West Virginia, and TCU.

10/6 @ Texas Tech

You can rest assured Oklahoma has had this date circled on the calendar since the day after the Sooners stunningly lost to the Red Raiders in Norman last season. Not only did the Sooners lose to the Red Raiders in Norman last season, but also the Sooners haven't won in Lubbock since 2003. Texas Tech's win over the Sooners was by all accounts, a fluke. The Red Raiders lost the rest of their games by an average score of 51-20, including a 66-6 massacre at the hands of Oklahoma State. The Red Raiders return quarterback Seth Doege, who orchestrated the No. 7 passing offense in the country last season. Running back Eric Stephens also returns, after tearing an ACL against Texas A&M season and missing the final seven games of the season. The Red Raiders also return three receivers who had more than 550 receiving yards last year. The defense is very young and inexperienced, but anything would be better than the defense that ranked dead last in rush defense in the country, 117th in scoring defense, and 114th in total defense. Head coach Tommy Tuberville scrapped the 4-2-5 defense employed last season, and defensive coordinator Chad Glasgow resigned. New coordinator Art Kaufman has switched the Red Raiders back to a 4-3 alignment and brought in five junior college players to start on defense.

10/13 Texas (Dallas, TX)

How Texas will perform in 2012 is anyone's guess. After a 5-7 2010 season, the Longhorns bounced back with an 8-5 record and a Holiday Bowl victory over California. How good the Longhorns will be in 2012 does not matter for this game, though. All bets are off when it comes to the Red River Rivalry, because anything can happen between these two teams in the Cotton Bowl. Texas should be improved in 2012, but much of their offensive success will depend on quarterback play. Right now, offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin says David Ash in the starter, but both he and Case McCoy should play in the Longhorns' opener against Wyoming. Ash was the better quarterback down the stretch in 2011, but has been unable to pull away from McCoy in fall camp. Texas should have an excellent rushing attack with a three-headed monster of Malcolm Brown, Joe Bergeron, and true freshman Johnathan Gray. However, the rushing attack will only be effective if the offensive line can push defenders off the line of scrimmage, and if the Longhorns can keep opponents from stacking the box by coming up with some semblance of a passing game (86th in the country in 2011). The defense, which finished 11th in total defense last season should be excellent once again. Defensive ends Jackson Jeffcoat and Alex Okafor had 15 combined sacks last year, and the entire secondary returns. There is some unproven talent at linebacker, but Texas should be able to plug holes with star recruits from the last couple of classes to fill the void. With consistent quarterback play, Texas could be well on its way to returning to prominence. Without it, the ascension process may have to wait another year.

10/20 Kansas

It's impossible to put a positive spin on Kansas' disaster of a season in 2011. The Jayhawks were, in a word, putrid in all facets of the game. The Jayhawks made the biggest eyebrow-raising hire of the offseason when they brought in Florida offensive coordinator and former Notre Dame head coach Charlie Weis. Weis is an unproven commodity, failing to consistently succeed at Notre Dame with some of the top talent in the country. Weis does, however, bring an intensity that was sorely lacking at Kansas under Turner Gill. Weis also brought in Notre Dame transfer Dayne Crist to quarterback the offense. There is no proven running back, but a veteran offensive line and two senior wide receivers give the offense some potential to have a decent passing attack. Defensively, the Jayhawks were dead last in points per game and total defense a year ago. Former Dallas Cowboys head coach Dave Campo has been brought in to shore up the porous unit. He doesn't have a lot to work with, but a pair of fifth-year transfers and true freshman Schyler Miles will certainly help. The secondary should be the strength of the unit, returning three of four starters from a year ago. Campo also brought in three junior college defensive tackles to bring stability and experience to a defensive line that returns just one starter from a year ago.

Be sure to check out part two of our preview on OU's 2012 schedule.

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