Throughout the next couple of weeks we’ll be checking in with some of the nonconference opponents facing off with Big Ten teams in 2016 to provide a better idea of what to expect out of the less-familiar opponents on this year’s league slate. Today we'll look at the Oklahoma Sooners.
Opponent: Oklahoma (vs. Ohio State, Sept. 17)
Offseason storyline: Earlier this week, Oklahoma’s brass approved well-earned raises for offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley and several others on the Sooners' staff. Riley is set to be the Big 12’s highest-paid offensive coordinator ($900,000) after his unit averaged 43.5 points per game in the rising star’s first year with the program. Oklahoma was thought to be a year away from a title run in 2015 but managed to reach the College Football Playoff before losing to Clemson.
Hopes are high for an encore this year in Norman. Most offseason concerns this year have been centered on topics further down the road, such as Baker Mayfield’s 2017 eligibility and the future of the conference.
What’s at stake for Ohio State? After a pair of tune-up contests against Group of Five teams, the Buckeyes get their first chance to prove themselves as championship contenders with a trip to Oklahoma. Can a young Ohio State team that has to replace more than half of its starters on defense slow down the deadly combination of Mayfield and Perine?
Urban Meyer has already shown that it’s possible to keep your goals intact after an early nonconference loss, but without many strong opponents until the very end of their schedule the Buckeyes will need a good showing in Norman to keep themselves near the top of the polls throughout the season.
What’s at stake for Oklahoma? The stakes are just as high for the Sooners. Depending on how they fare against a dangerous Houston team in the season opener, the matchup with Ohio State could be framed as a major pick-me-up or a chance to start 3-0 and cement perhaps the best nonconference resume among playoff contenders. Oklahoma lost its two most lethal pass rushers from a year ago. It would behoove them to find new sources of QB pressure before facing J.T. Barrett and company in Week 3.
This game, as much as any in September, could go a long way in establishing conference bragging rights and determining which of the five power leagues gets bumped out of the four playoff spots in December.