STILLWATER — If Oklahoma State is in the mix for a Big 12 Championship heading into December, the Cowboys will have earned it.
OSU released its finalized 2011 football schedule on Friday and it's safe to say the Pokes will be tested by their Big 12 Conference slate. The Cowboys will play five conference road games including at Missouri, Texas A&M and Texas.
Here's a closer look at OSU's schedule, ranked from toughest to easiest:
1. Oklahoma, Dec. 3
Why: Do you really need to ask? The Sooners enter the season as one of the top teams in the nation and have won eight straight Bedlam matchups against OSU. Led by quarterback Landry Jones and receiver Ryan Broyles, the Sooners should field a team that will be in the mix for a BCS title game berth.
Beating OU is the next step for Mike Gundy's program if it expects to continue its recent rise in the college football landscape. Fortunately for the Pokes, they have the offensive firepower to do it, lead by quarterback Brandon Weeden and receiver Justin Blackmon.
2. at Texas A&M, Sept. 24
Why: OSU barely escaped its meeting with the Aggies with a 38-35 win last season at Boone Pickens Stadium.
This year, Texas A&M could be just as good but the Pokes will have to knock them off in College Station, home of Kyle Field, one of the toughest atmospheres in the Big 12. To make matters worse, the Aggies should be led by a quarterback (Ryan Tannehill) who throws the ball to his teammates instead of the opposition when they face OSU this season.
3. at Texas, Oct. 15
Why: Never underestimate the Longhorns.
Texas is coming off of a disappointing season and their quarterback situation remains unsettled heading into the summer. But Texas is Texas.
The Longhorns will be looking for revenge after OSU dominated them in 2010 and this game could become even more important if Texas is coming off a loss to OU in the Red River Rivalry.
4. at Missouri, Oct. 22
Why: OSU's road game at Faurot Field is particularly difficult because it comes the week after the Pokes face Texas. Winning back-to-back road games in hostile environments is tough on any team.
Missouri loses standout quarterback Blaine Gabbert but the Tigers have a talented roster and play extremely well at home, finishing 2010 undefeated in Columbia.
5. at Texas Tech, Nov. 12
Why: Winning in Lubbock is never easy.
The Red Raiders have a full year under Tommy Tuberville and should be better in 2011 after finishing 4-1 in their final five games of 2010.
6. Arizona, Sept. 8
Why: The combination of a veteran quarterback in Nick Foles and a squad looking for revenge after their Alamo Bowl make for a scary proposition for OSU.
But the Cowboys should enter this game with plenty of confidence thanks to the way their defense shut down U of A in the Alamo Bowl.
7. at Iowa State
Why: The prospects of a road game in Ames, Iowa on a Friday night in November aren't very appealing. If there's blowing snow and wintery conditions that could slow OSU's pass happy attack better than any defense did in 2010.
Not to mention the Cyclones have been on the rise under Paul Rhoads with road wins over Nebraska and Texas in the past two seasons. They should not be overlooked.
8. Baylor, Oct. 29
Why: Any team led by Robert Griffin should scare its opponent. Griffin, the Bears' quarterback, is an elite athlete with the game-breaking ability to carry a team. And the date of this game favors Baylor with OSU coming off back-to-back road tilts at Texas and Missouri.
But OSU dominated this matchup in 2010 and has the ability to do it again.
9. at Tulsa, Sept. 17
Why: The Golden Hurricane are a potential trap game as a road game against an in-state foe scheduled between Arizona and Texas A&M. Under new coach Bill Blankenship, Tulsa will be looking to make a statement.
But the Cowboys will have the superior talent and nine days to prepare. Advantage, Pokes.
Why: This game could be problematic because it is sandwiched between road battles with Texas A&M and Texas.
If the Cowboys overlook KU, they could be in for a tougher game than expected. If not, OSU has a better roster which should lead to a W.
11. Kansas State, Nov. 5
Why: The Wildcats are in rebuilding mode under Bill Snyder and will face a tough task to knock off OSU at Boone Pickens Stadium.
OSU travels to Lubbock after facing K-State so that could play in the Wildcats favor but the Cowboys, who beat KSU without Blackmon in 2010, have to feel good about their chances.
Why: There will be plenty of excitement for the 2011 version of the Cowboys to debut so this game appears to be the easiest of the bunch, especially with the Ragin Cajuns' under a new head coach in Mark Hudspeth.