By John Shinn
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — Oklahoma’s had a scheduling philosophy for nearly a decade that’s been pretty simple: If you want to be the best, you have to beat the best.
It’s meant just about every September it’s face multiple ranked teams before entering Big 12 Conference play.
This year is no exception with the Sooners hosting No. 20 Florida State Sept. 11 and going to Cincinnati Sept. 25.
But even OU coach Bob Stoops admits he doesn’t know how wise it is for the Sooners to expose themselves to those kinds of non-conference games.
“I’m not so sure that I embrace it anymore,” Stoops said. “I don’t know how much it helps you. It all gets down to if you lose one game by a point to one of those teams, and someone else plays four teams that are easy, and at the end of the year you have one more loss than they don, they’re going to be ranked ahead of you.”
Texas faces Rice, Wyoming, UCLA and Florida Atlantic as its non-conference schedule. None of those teams are ranked and only the Bruins seemingly have a chance of cracking the Top 25 at some point this year.
Nebraska goes to Washington Sept. 18. It’s other three non-conference foes are Western Kentucky, Idaho and South Dakota State.
There might be a benefit for the Sooners if strength of schedule were still a major component in the BCS standings. It still factors into the computer rankings. Perhaps, some coaches who vote in their poll or some in the Harris Poll electorate give it some credence. But who beat hasn’t been as important as winning since the strength of schedule component was eliminated after the 2003 season.
If it were still there, OU could enter the 2010 season knowing if it won all its regular-season games it’s path to the national championship game would be clear.
The season begins Saturday when Utah State, which went 4-8 last season, visits Owen Field at 6 p.m. OU better enjoy this one. On its 12-game schedule it is the only game where victory seems certain.
The non-conference schedule kicks into high gear when the Seminoles come to Norman Sept. 11. It is the first meeting between the programs since the Sooners’ claimed the 2000 national championship with a win over the heavily-favored Seminoles in the Orange Bowl.
Air Force invade Owen Field Sept. 18. Anyone thinking this game will be a cake walk should remember the Falcons went 8-5 last season and crushed Houston in the Armed Forces Bowl.
The first road test comes Sept. 25 when OU faces Cincinnati. The Bearcats are coming off an undefeated regular season. There’s also a new coach with Butch Jones taking over after Brian Kelly left for Notre Dame following the 2009 season.
If OU can make its way through the first four games unscathed it should be ready for the Big 12.
But there’s no way to gauge the benefits of playing tough teams.
“I don’t know how much it benefits you,” Stoops said. “If you don’t get anyone hurt, it does. If you don’t get anyone hurt and you win, it definitely benefits you.”
The Sooners are going to find out quickly whether it did them any good or not. They face No. 4 Texas Oct. 2 at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas. As usual many believe this game will decide the winner of the Big 12 South. The Sooners have lost four of the last five in the historic series, but have still managed to win three of the last four Big 12 titles.
OU faces all three of its Big 12 North foes in a three-week period. Iowa State visits Norman Oct. 16. The Sooners go to Missouri Oct. 23 and Colorado comes to town Oct. 30.
The final month of the regular kicks off with what figures to be the Sooners’ toughest conference road game. They go to improving Texas A&M Nov. 6. The season’s final home game is Nov. 13 when Texas Tech visits Nov. 13.
The regular season concludes with back-to-back road games at Baylor (Nov. 20) and Oklahoma (Nov. 27).
The Big 12 championship game will be Dec. 4 at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
If the Sooners make it there, they will have navigated one of the toughest schedules in the program’s history.