Oklahoma enters the 2014 season with high expectations, but what exactly are they going up against this year? Here's a look at the first six opponents on the Sooners' schedule this year:
Biggest game: Nov. 8 vs. Baylor
Most difficult game: Nov. 15 at Texas Tech
Trap game: Nov. 1 at Iowa State
Toughest stretch: Nov. 1 at Iowa State, Nov. 8 vs. Baylor, Nov. 15 at Texas Tech
Saturday, August 30 - Louisiana Tech
The Bulldogs went 4-8 in Skip Holtz' first season as head coach and should be improved in 2014. La Tech will test Oklahoma's run defense right out of the gate with running back Kenneth Dixon and three returning starters on the offensive line. Dixon rushed for 917 yards in just 10 games last year and averaged 6.1 yards per carry. The Bulldogs' passing game leaves much to be desired, but the return of both quarterbacks who started, plus two senior wide receivers should help it progress pass last year's performance.
Defensively, former Texas coordinator Manny Diaz takes over a unit that boasts good experience in the secondary. Safety Xavier Woods (61 tackles in 2013) leads a unit that returns three of four starters from last year's 31st passing defense. However, there are a lot of holes to fill in a front seven that struggled against the run last year, giving up 194 yards per game.
Saturday, September 6 - at Tulsa
The Golden Hurricane will be rebuilding in 2014 after a terrible, 3-9 season last year. Tulsa was uncharacteristically bad a year ago, especially coming off a Conference USA title in 2012. This year, the offense remains a question mark, beginning at quarterback. Dane Evans started five games a year ago, but struggled a lot. However, he should be the quarterback when Tulsa starts the season. Running back is another question mark with sophomore James Flanders and junior college transfer Taverreon Dickerson stepping in to fill the void left by Trey Watts. The strength of the group should be the wide receiver position where Keyarris Garrett returns from an injury that sidelined him for most of last year. The offensive line returns three starters, a big boost to Tulsa's rebuilding efforts.
RELATED: Tulsa Football Schedule Breakdown Part 1
The defense will have to carry the load while the offense comes along. Tulsa returns eight starters on defense, but its most important player from a year ago—linebacker Shawn Jackson—is among those not returning. However, Demarco Nelson returns at safety, after being suspended last season for academic reasons. He will slide next to Michael Mudoh, who was forced into action last year because of Nelson's suspension. All Mudoh did was lead the conference in tackles. The rest of the secondary is experienced and there is good depth. The defensive line is also stout, as sack leader Derrick Alexander returns. The weak point of the unit is easily the linebackers, who will really miss Jackson. There are a lot of options to start for Tulsa, but all are pretty young and inexperienced.
Saturday, September 13 - Tennessee
This year's game in Norman should heavily favor the Sooners, but the Volunteers are on the rebound under Butch Jones and next year's tilt in Knoxville could be more interesting. But that's for another time. This year, the Vols must replace their entire offensive line, a bad sign for a team trying to decide between four quarterbacks, all of whom struggled at some point last year. Senior Justin Worley is the favorite to win the job and will have a couple solid receivers to throw to. The running game will have a new look this year, but freshman Jalen Hurd is a very talented option and the future of the Tennessee offense.
The story is the same on the defense, as the Vols are replacing an entire line. That may be a good thing, though, since Tennessee gave up 207 yards per game on the ground last year. The back seven will be the strength of the unit, with linebackers Curt Maggitt and A.J. Johnson anchoring one of the best linebacking corps in the SEC. The secondary also returns three of four starters from last year, providing another nice early-season test for OU quarterback Trevor Knight.
Saturday, September 20 - at West Virginia
WVU coach Dana Holgorsen said at Big 12 Media Days his team finally understood what it took to win in the Big 12. The reason for that is a veteran squad that has taken its fair share of lumps in the Mountaineers' first two seasons in the conference. The WVU offense struggled last year, but should be better this year thanks to another year of experience in Holgorsen's system. Senior Clint Trickett would appear to be the favorite at quarterback, but several players will challenge him in preseason camp. The loss of running back Charles Sims at running back hurts, but there are a lot of skill position players ready to step up at running back and receiver, and the Mountaineers return both guards on the offensive line.
On defense, WVU has nowhere to go but up. The Mountaineers appeared improved last season, but as the year wore on, things steadily got worse. The secondary and linebacking corps should be solid. Safety Karl Joseph leads a good group on the back line and there's a lot of potential in the young players filling the shoes of those who have left. At linebacker, Isaiah Bruce and last year's leading tackler Nick Kwiatkoski lead a veteran group. The defensive line is the unit's biggest question mark with just one returning starter. The Mountaineers may know what it takes to win in the Big 12, but that doesn't necessarily mean they have what it takes to do it.
Saturday, October 4 - at TCU
The Horned Frogs have also had a rough transition into the Big 12, bottoming out with a 4-8 record last season. TCU's struggles last year were centered mainly on the offense, which finished 104th in the country in total offense. This year, Doug Meacham and Sonny Cumbie arrive in Fort Worth to revitalize a stale attack. The quarterback position is up for grabs between Trevone Boykin and Texas A&M transfer Matt Joeckel. Boykin has the most experience, but he could be just as useful as a wide receiver. It's unclear who the leader is at this point. The running backs are the strongest part of this offense, as B.J. Catalon and Aaron Green both boast experience and talent. TCU will need some receivers to step up, but do have a solid offensive line.
Defensively, TCU looks like it will be back to normal after a sub-par year in 2013. However, they will have to do it without preseason Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year Devonte Fields, who is suspended thanks to domestic violence accusations. The defensive line should still be solid without him, but the addition of Fields would have made it nasty. The secondary should be another strong point with Chris Hackett and Sam Carter anchoring the group. The linebackers are probably the weakest position in the unit, but that's not really saying a lot. Defense will have to be the leader for the Horned Frogs until the offense catches up.
RELATED: Oklahoma State Schedule Breakdown Part 1
Saturday, October 11 - vs. Texas (Dallas)
What to make of the Longhorns? The new regime under Charlie Strong is nothing like the one Texas fans grew accustomed to under Mack Brown and that's probably a good thing. Still, the overall state of the Longhorns' program is anything but stable and it's unclear what Texas is going to look like this year. That uncertainty begins at quarterback, where David Ash—back from a head injury—as well as Tyrone Swoopes and incoming freshman Jerrod Heard will compete for the job. It's Ash's to lose, but he may not last long if he can't stay healthy. That uncertainty extends to the O-line where only two starters return. The skill positions have a lot of veterans, especially Malcolm Brown and Johnathan Gray at running back. Strong kicked fellow backfield mate Joe Bergeron off the team, so that's a blow to the Horns' depth. Jaxon Shipley and Marcus Johnson lead a solid receiving corps that lost Kendall Sanders to sexual assault allegations.
On defense, the questions are even deeper. The Longhorns have talent and a lot of experience, but if it's experience from two of the worst Texas defenses ever, does it really matter? Cedric Reed and Malcom Brown (the other one) anchor the defensive line. Reed is arguably the best defensive end in the Big 12. Linebacker is a thin position, but all three starters from a year ago return. However, Jordan Hicks and Steve Edmond are coming off injuries; Hicks has played just seven games the past two years due to season-ending injuries. In the secondary, Quandre Diggs leads a veteran group that still needs to live up to expectations. As in the past few years, Texas has no shortage of raw talent, but the question remains whether or not talent translates to wins.