Texas Football: Ranking the 5 Hardest Games of the 2014 Schedule
Charlie Strong's first season at Texas will not be without its rigors. His new rival, the Oklahoma Sooners, will make sure of that.
The Longhorns open their schedule with North Texas, which serves as a tuneup for their attempt at revenge against BYU. Even though he wasn't there, you better believe a guy like Strong wants to bury the Cougars' 550-yard rushing performance six feet under ground.
Then Texas hits its toughest stretch of the season, getting UCLA, Baylor and Oklahoma in three of its next four. Sandwiching that stretch and a home game against Iowa State, the 'Horns then have Kansas State and Texas Tech in back-to-back road games.
If Texas can get through that stretch of its five toughest games with a winning record, Strong's debut campaign will be considered a success.
No. 5: 11/1 at Texas Tech
Texas Tech and Oklahoma State each lose a significant amount of talent. Since it's Lubbock and Kliff Kingsbury is going to declare war on Texas' secondary, this formidable road game gets circled.
The Red Raiders lose both of their leading receivers, Jace Amaro and Eric Ward, but return just about everything else on offense. Headlined by quarterback Davis Webb and rising star Jakeem Grant, eight starters return to a unit that ran more plays than anybody in the country last season.
Those eight returning starters give Kingsbury a group that is familiar with his offense, meaning more fireworks from last year's top passing attack. This spells trouble for a Longhorn secondary that lost two seniors and just booted probable starter Leroy Scott from the team.
Tech did lose seven starters on defense, meaning the Texas offense should be able to keep pace. Then again, it's Lubbock and things like Michael Crabtree's heroic TD scamper tend to happen there.
No. 4: 10/25 at Kansas State
Sure Kansas State loses a few starters. But we should all know better than to doubt Bill Snyder's ability to be the wizard that he is.
After getting off to a 2-4 start last season, the Wildcats finished as one of the Big 12's hottest teams by winning six of their last seven. Down 12 starters, they could follow a similar script with early-season matchups against Auburn and Oklahoma.
But their late October matchup with the Longhorns gives them plenty of time to right the ship. And Snyder still has All-Big 12 receiver Tyler Lockett, who shredded the 'Horns for 237 yards in last year's matchup.
As with the Texas Tech game, the Longhorns should still have the talent to emerge with the victory. By that same token, a late-season contest in Manhattan has never been kind to Texas football.
No. 3: 10/4 vs. Baylor
There are two games that will set the tone for Charlie Strong's tenure at Texas, and the October matchup with Baylor is one of them.
Texas and Baylor have yet to become bitter rivals, but they are trending in that direction. Art Briles will be the Bears' head coach for as long as he wants, and his brand of wide-open offense is still picking up steam. Just wait until he starts regularly pulling a top-25 recruiting class at Texas' expense.
The Bears aren't going anywhere, and for all of the reasons Texas Tech will give the 'Horns trouble, add in the conference's best rushing attack. The Bears lose Lache Seastrunk, but Shock Linwood and his 6.9 yards per carry will fill in nicely.
For Strong, making an early statement against the conference's premier offense will not only improve his recruiting fortunes, but build up some early equity with a notoriously fickle fanbase. This will be especially necessary if he can't deliver a win in the toughest game on this list.
No. 2: 9/13 vs. UCLA Bruins (Arlington, Texas)
Though it is closer to a home game for the 'Horns, their early-season tilt with UCLA will be one of their most grueling of the season.
Returning for his junior season, Bruins quarterback Brett Hundley is a Heisman Trophy candidate and leads one of the best teams in the country. The 6'3", 222-pound quarterback is difficult to bring to the ground and possesses the arm strength to hit big plays down the field, especially now that he's surrounded by eight other veteran starters.
Despite losing consensus All-American Anthony Barr, Jim Mora's squad gets seven starters back on defense, including two-way standout Myles Jack.
In all, this is the one of the most balanced teams that Texas will face all season. This is also Strong's first game of the season away from Darrell K Royal Memorial Stadium, so this projects to be a tough one from start to finish.
No. 1: 10/11 vs. Oklahoma (Dallas, Texas)
Also the toughest on the schedule, no game matters more to Charlie Strong's first season than his first tilt with Oklahoma.
Catapulting off their 45-31 thumping of Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, the Sooners are the odds-on favorite to take the Big 12. They return 14 starters, including their entire defensive front seven, and have the depth to replace everything they lost on offense.
For Bob Stoops' squad, it's all about which version of Trevor Knight shows up. If it's the one that threw four touchdowns in the Sugar Bowl, the Sooners could contend for a national title. But should he more closely resemble the player that threw two picks against West Virginia, his team will lose some games it's supposed to win.
No matter what course his new rival's team takes, that Sooner defense is going to give Texas' relatively inexperienced offensive line fits. If protection becomes a problem, either David Ash's dismal 1:4 touchdown-to-interception ratio against the Sooners will get even worse, or Tyrone Swoopes won't enjoy his first rivalry game.
Between chasing the Oklahoma quarterback and protecting his own, the odds are stacked against Strong making a statement in his first Red River Rivalry.