We've all seen the many prognosticators picking the Oklahoma Sooners as the preseason favorite for the 2011 national championship. Despite the hype, there are definitely some potential potholes on OU's road to New Orleans.
Here's how the Sooners' 2011 opponents stack up in terms of the likelihood of an OU loss, from least likely to most likely. Keep in mind this is not a ranking of the quality of teams OU will face, but rather a ranking of where the Sooners could most likely stumble.
12. Ball State (Oct. 1 - Norman)
Ball State is breaking in a new coach in Pete Lembo with a squad that went 4-8 last year. On the road against the team with the longest home winning streak in the nation? This could get ugly fast.
Ball State simply doesn't have the talent to match up with OU. At least we'll get to see what Blake Bell or Drew Allen bring to the backup position.
11. Kansas (Oct. 15 - Lawrence)
Year one of Turner Gill's regime as a Jayhawk was rough, but his team should be better in 2011. Still, there's no reason to think the Sooners don't win this one by double digits. The second team should get a ton of work in Lawrence barring a huge surprise.
10. Kansas State (Oct. 29 - Manhattan)
The Miracle in Manhattan 2.0 is underway, but we're still a long way from the success of the first . Bill Snyder enters his third year of his second stint and 2011 will be key to the Wildcats turnaround hopes. The home crowd will be ready to go but unfortunately for them I see the Sooners pulling away in the second half.
9. Texas Tech (Oct. 22 - Norman)
In this series the home team has won every game since 2004. The Red Raiders are breaking in a new quarterback, as well as continuing the switch towards a more SEC-style, run-oriented offense under second-year coach Tommy Tuberville. I see the home team winning again as Tech continues to seatch for a long-term identity.
8. Missouri (Sept. 24 - Norman)
The Tigers were one of two teams to beat the Sooners last year, and Gary Pinkel's squad will be confident heading to Norman. A new quarterback will be under center, but the same high-powered offensive scheme will still be in place for Mizzou. However, the Sooners will be ready to avenge last year's prime time loss.
I see this one being all OU early, as the Sooners look to make a statement to the league.
7. Iowa State (Nov. 12 - Norman)
I can already hear the snickering, but I really feel that coach Paul Rhoads has this squad heading in the right direction (comparatively speaking). The 2010 Cyclones beat a more talented Texas squad in Austin, and they went for the win in OT to just fall short against North division champ Nebraska. Rhoads had laid the groundwork for a surprise bowl season in 2011.
6. Tulsa (Sept. 3 - Norman)
The Golden Hurricane come to Norman to open the 2011 season with a new coach, but senior QB G.J. Kinne will still be taking the snaps. This could be a tougher game than most Sooner fans expect, as Tulsa will be amped to start the season against an in-state foe.
Expect a Sooners victory, but definitely not an opening day blowout.
5. Baylor (Nov. 19 - Waco)
Deja vu: Robert Griffin returns for yet another year as a Baylor Bear, and OU again travels to Waco. The Sooners started their late-season run against Baylor last season and will look to do so again in 2011. Baylor's up-tempo offense will be a tough challenge for Brent Venables defense and his D.
OU has won all 20 games in the series and should finish this one with 21 in a row.
4. Oklahoma State (Nov. 26 - Stillwater)
The majority of the Poke offense comes back, and stars Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon will get a chance to face their Bedlam rivals in Stillwater for the second year in a row.
I wanted to move this game closer to the top of the list, but I can't justify it. Oklahoma hasn't lost on the road against OSU since 2002. Whenever OU travels to town, it's a nail-biting affair, but the Sooners have found a way to leave with a win each time.
With championship aspirations, this is a game the Sooners will have to win. They have shown in the past they're up to the challenge.
3. Texas A&M (Nov. 5 - Norman)
The other of the two teams to best the Sooners last year, Texas A&M finished the regular season hot, securing a berth in the Cotton Bowl. Unfortunately, the Aggies have to travel to Norman where they haven't had much success since Bob Stoops arrived.
This A&M team returns 18 starters, including QB Ryan Tannehill, the key to their 2010 second-half surge. Is Mike Sherman's team ready to turn the corner and compete with the Big 12's top tier? A victory here would go along way to proving the Aggies' worth.
2. Florida State (Sept. 17 - Tallahassee)
Two preseason top five teams, ESPN College GameDay in town, night atmosphere at Doak Campbell Stadium – this has all the elements a college football fan could want.
The road hasn't been the kindest place for the Sooners in the last few years. 2010 was no different, with both losses coming away from Owen Field. Expect FSU to be amped and chomping at the bit to prove they are back among college footballs elite.
Stoops will find out early in the season what kind of squad he has on his hands and just how far they can go. Expect a shootout as both teams get up to speed defensively.
1. Red River Shootout (Oct. 8 - Dallas)
I don't care if the Longhorns went 5-7 last year. I don't care that Texas players are called coddled and soft by NFL scouts and Oklahomans everywhere.
This is the Red River Shootout. The season begins and ends with this game. The second the teams come down the tunnel, records and analysis go out the window. The State Fair and 100,000 fans split down the middle all add to the pageantry.
This game is truly a 50-50 proposition and the one the Sooners could most likely drop in 2011.
(Contact JJ Worthington at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow JJ on Twitter: @JJ_Worthington.)