Oklahoma feeling confident heading into ’14 season

Can the Sooners compete for a national title in '14?

Mark D. Smith/Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

First, Oklahoma found its quarterback.

Then, the Sooners beat Alabama.

Now, heading into the 2014 season, the first year of college football’s new, four-team playoff, OU – with the help of a returning QB, renewed confidence and a favorable schedule – is in excellent shape to compete for a national title.

Yes, the quarterback is a key piece, but the Sooners’ schedule is a major element to qualifying for the playoff. It really couldn’t have shaped up better.

OU starts the season Aug. 30 at home against Louisiana Tech. Here are four reasons the 2014 schedule will get the Sooners into the four-team playoff:

Home games

Unlike last season, the toughest games of the season are all in Norman this season. No worries about a late-game trip to Stillwater, or having to go play at Baylor on a Saturday night.

This season, OU has Kansas State, Baylor and OSU all at home in Big 12 play. The Sooners also face an SEC team, Tennessee, in Norman on Sept. 13 which will give OU some national exposure for the first time since beating Alabama in the Sugar Bowl back in January.

Aside from the game against Louisiana Tech, it’s conceivable all but one of the games (Kansas, Sat. 22) will be against top-25 teams.

Quality wins

There are plenty of opportunities on the schedule.

Tennessee (Sept. 13) may very well turn out to be a terrible team this season, but when the Sooners play the Vols, OU will have the benefit of not facing a team in the tank. Plus, getting some run against an SEC team is never a bad thing.

The Sooners first two conference games are on the road, but both are good spots. First, OU takes on West Virginia, a team that will be picked to finish at the bottom of the conference, but because it’s the first game of the Big 12 season, OU won’t have to worry about being in a dead spot. It won’t overlook WVU like Oklahoma State did last year when the Cowboys lost in Morgantown in late September.

Meanwhile, OU will have a week off before traveling to Fort Worth to take on the Horned Frogs. Certainly not an easy game, OU will have two weeks to get healthy and get re-focused.

A 5-0 start heading into the Texas game, with the fact the Sooners know they lost to Texas a season ago, will be motivation enough.

The second half of the season has Kansas State, Baylor and Oklahoma State – all at home.

Stumbling blocks

While it’s hard to handicap an entire season in July, a look at the schedule shows that every road game is completely winnable. Seriously.

Last season’s schedule had games at Notre Dame, at Kansas State, at Oklahoma State, and while the Sooners won those, they looked imposing in July of 2013.

In July of 2014, road games against Tulsa, TCU, Iowa State and Texas Tech don’t look near as menacing. None will be ranked when OU plays them. Also, the Iowa State game, originally scheduled for a Thursday night has been moved to a Saturday. Not that Iowa State is a world beater, but remember, a bad Cyclone team beat OSU two seasons ago on a Thursday night in front of a rowdy crowd. A game on Saturday in Ames, Iowa, doesn’t have the same draw. Basically, OU got a break there.

Tough spots

There’s always Texas, there will be a Sept. 6 game at Tulsa, but the toughest spot of them all is going to be at Texas Tech on Nov. 15. It will be the last road game of the season for the Sooners and there’s little reason to think OU won’t be undefeated.

Most likely, if Texas Tech is a viable team by mid November, the game will be a night game, a prime-time game, a big spot for the Red Raiders. Lubbock is never an easy place to play, but late in the season, against a top-ranked or certainly a top-five OU team, Lubbock could be a real snake pit.

Another tough spot is Baylor. The Bears represent the best team on the schedule, but OU has plenty of reason to play well against the Bears.

The Oklahoma State game on Dec. 6. The last two years, OU has won late against better Oklahoma State teams. Count on the Sooners being ready, but count on OSU being capable of an upset.

Follow Andrew Gilman on Twitter: @andrewgilmanOK