-- Count All-Big 12 center Gabe Ikard among of the legions of Sooners and their fans ready to see the University of Oklahoma return to the football field in 2013.
"I'm extremely excited for the start of spring practice on March 6," said Ikard. "We've been working hard in the weight room to gain strength and speed. It will be great to have the entire team back on the field to prepare for a very challenging schedule ahead of us in 2013."
Oklahoma's 2013 opponents had a combined 96-60 record in 2012. Eleven of those 12 foes went to a bowl game with Kansas being the only team on the Sooners' schedule that didn't participate in the postseason last year. In fact, only two teams OU will play in 2013 weren't ranked at least once in the AP or USA Today
poll during the 2012 campaign.
"We came to Oklahoma because we knew we'd get the opportunity to compete against the very best and win championships," Ikard continued.
On August 31, the championship quest will officially begin as Oklahoma kicks off its 119th season of football. While the Sooners' opener against Louisiana-Monroe is still six months away, excitement is already building for next season.
Just ask All-Big 12 senior cornerback Aaron Colvin.
"I came back for my senior season because I felt like there was business I needed to finish with my teammates and individually," Colvin said. "I signed with the University of Oklahoma because I knew I'd have the opportunity to maximize my potential as a player and be part of a team that could play for championships.
"If you want to be viewed as one of the best, you've got to compete against the best. I look at our schedule thinking we've got something to prove every week. I'm excited about the new players we added on signing day, and can't wait to start competing with those guys."
But before the competition begins against opponents in the fall, there will be questions aplenty during spring drills. Will Bob Stoops be able to supplant Barry Switzer for the most victories in OU history this fall? Who will replace Landry Jones at quarterback? How many incoming recruits will make an immediate impact once they step on campus? What players already here will emerge to fill bigger roles?
And, of course, can OU win a ninth Big 12 championship and position itself for an eighth national championship?
Those questions will be answered over the course of 12 Saturdays in the fall. Talk to devout OU loyalists, and they'll tell you the Sooner game days are arguably the 12 greatest days of the year.
Six times this fall, we'll see Sooner tents and a variety of OU tailgating rigs scattered across campus, as virtually everything in Norman becomes coated in Crimson and Cream. The Pride of Oklahoma, the Sooner Schooner and the intro video. Is there really anything better than football time in Oklahoma?
The 2013 schedule is highlighted by games against nine Big 12 foes, including Oklahoma's first-ever conference home game against West Virginia. And, of course, there is OU's first trip to Notre Dame since 1999, as well a non-conference home matchup with in-state rival Tulsa.
Once again, the Sooners' 2013 schedule packs plenty of punch, with six marquee home games at Gaylord Family - Oklahoma Memorial Stadium.
"Every week is going to be challenging," Ikard added. "I know our fans will be excited to cheer us on, whether we're at home, in the Red River Rivalry or on the road. Every game is big, but opening our Big 12 season at home against West Virginia is a fantastic opportunity. Additionally, the chance to play Notre Dame in South Bend is important to our players and our fans. Finishing the regular season with games at Kansas State and at Oklahoma State will be exciting, as well. We are looking forward to a great season."
OU opens the season at home with its first-ever meeting against Louisiana-Monroe. The Warhawks are coming off an 8-5 season and an appearance in the Independence Bowl. Oklahoma will look to improve on a 10-0 all-time record against teams from the Sun Belt. ULM had plenty of experience in big games last season, knocking off No. 8 Arkansas and taking Auburn to overtime on the road. The 2013 opener will be the Sooners' earliest start to the season since 2008.
One weekend later, on Sept. 7, West Virginia makes its first trip to Norman as a member of the Big 12. Having last met at Oklahoma Memorial Stadium in 1982, OU has a 3-2 all-time record against the Mountaineers, including last season's 50-49 thrilling victory in Morgantown when Landry Jones connected with Kenny Stills for the game-winning score on fourth down. WVU went on to appear in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl and finished 7-6 in its inaugural Big 12 campaign.
In-state rival Tulsa makes the short trip south to Norman on Sept. 14. The Conference USA champions finished 2012 with a victory over Iowa State in the Liberty Bowl. Oklahoma owns a 17-7-1 edge over Tulsa, including an 11-3-1 mark in Norman.
Oklahoma's first road trip will be a big one. The Sooners will make a much-anticipated trip to Notre Dame on Sept. 28. After a 12-1 season and an appearance in the BCS National Championship Game, the Fighting Irish welcome the Oklahoma to South Bend for the first time since 1999. The Sooners will seek to avenge 30-13 to Notre Dame last season in Norman.
On Oct. 5, TCU makes its inaugural trip to Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium as a member of the Big 12. The Sooners are 7-4 against the Horned Frogs, including a 24-17 victory last season to clinch the Big 12 title. TCU hasn't played in Norman since 2008. The Horned Frogs finished 7-6 in their inaugural Big 12 campaign and closed the season at the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl.
Once again, the second weekend in October is reserved for the AT&T Red River Rivlary. The 108th meeting between Oklahoma and Texas will be held in the venerable Cotton Bowl on the grounds of the State Fair of Texas on Oct. 12. The Sooners will be shooting for a fourth-straight Red River Rivalry win will be on the line after registering a lopsided 63-21 victory last season.
Following a road trip to Kansas on Oct. 19, the Red Raiders of Texas Tech come to Norman on Oct. 26. Texas Tech finished 8-5 in 2012 highlighted by a victory in the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas and ranked wins over No. 5 West Virginia and No. 23 TCU.
On Nov. 9, the Sooners will visit Waco for a Big 12 contest vs. Baylor after posting a 42-34 home win over the Bears last season.
The final chance to catch the Sooners at home in 2013 will be on Nov. 16 against Iowa State. While the Cyclones are coming off a 6-7 season, they closed their season at the Liberty Bowl against Louisiana-Monroe. OU will look to continue an impressive streak of seven-straight victories over ISU at home. OU is 36-3-1 all-time against the Cyclones.
The Sooners close out the 2013 regular season with back-to-back Big 12 road trips. OU will seek to avenge its only conference loss of 2012 when the Sooners visit Kansas State on Nov. 23. After an open week, Oklahoma will face Oklahoma State in a Bedlam battle in Stillwater on Dec. 7. Oklahoma is 82-17-7 against the Cowboys, including a thrilling 51-48 overtime win last season in Norman that will go down as one of the best games in the storied Bedlam series.
Mark your calendars, test fire your grill. Get your favorite tailgating spot plotted out. Football isn't that far away. The 2013 University of Oklahoma football season has plenty of potential for excitement. In the meantime, we'll see you for a sneak peek of what's in store this season at the Oklahoma Spring Game presented by U.S. Fleet Tracking on April 13.