After eight months of college football purgatory, the season is finally here. After you wake up to watch ESPN’s College Gameday live from Lambeau Field, the Oklahoma Sooners will kickoff the Saturday gauntlet of games in a top 10 matchup against the Houston Cougars from NRG Stadium. Baker Mayfield will square off against Greg Ward, Jr. in a matchup between two Heisman capable quarterbacks. The Sooners boast the best duo of running backs possibly in the country in Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon. The Cougars offense is highly explosive and will look to exploit a Sooner defense which lost some key pieces. Get your popcorn ready.
Date/Time: Saturday, Sept. 3rd, 2016. 11 am CDT
Where: NRG Stadium, Houston, Texas
Forecast: Partly cloudy. High of 92 with 20% chance of rain
Betting Line: OU -10
THE OKLAHOMA SOONERS
The Sooners are the clear-cut favorite in the Big 12. They return Mayfield at quarterback who finished fourth in Heisman voting in 2015. Perine and Mixon look to expand upon decimating Big 12 defenses a year ago on the ground.
The big question on offense will be who will replace Sterling Shepard. Names that have been thrown into the hat are DeDe Westbrook, who was the Big 12 Newcomer of the Year a season ago, and TE/flex receiver Mark Andrews who broke a freshman receiving record for touchdowns in 2015 for Oklahoma.
Defensively the Sooners have a balance of talented stars and questions. Middle linebacker Jordan Evans and strong safety Steven Parker look to lead the defense while All-American candidate DT Charles Walker anchors the defensive line. The linebacking unit will have a rotating door of freshman and inexperienced players which will be something to watch for Saturday.
KEYS TO THE GAME
Oklahoma Doesn’t Need To Make This A Shootout – This game is being billed as a wild, wild west showdown between Mayfield and Ward. While that will put eyeballs on television sets, the Sooners have a large advantage in the offensive line/running back competition against Houston’s defensive line. If the Sooners can run the ball effectively — something they were unable to do until the midpoint of the season last year — then the game should be under control
Houston Attacks The Middle Of The Field – While Jordan Evans and LB/nickelback Will Johnson provide talent and experience, Oklahoma will start redshirt sophomore Tay Evans at outside linebacker. Given Evans’ lack of play, look for Tom Herman to attempt to dink-and-dunk the Sooners linebackers to open the rest of the field up. If Houston can do this, the shootout could occur.
Sooners “New” Corner – Zach Sanchez no longer patrols the opponent’s best receiver. Jordan Thomas looks to fill in the lockdown cornerback spot while new starter Dakota Austin lines up opposite. Austin has only started two games (2015) in his three-year career but has shown a ball-hawking ability and tallied up three interceptions and three pass breakups. The Cougars may, by default, attack Austin. If Austin is able to hold his own, the Sooner secondary will be fine. If not — watch out Oklahoma.
Contain Greg Ward, Jr. – Oklahoma defensive coordinator Mike Stoops has historically had his worst games coaching against duel-threat passers. Ward is one of the most electric quarterbacks in the game and is capable of winning all on his own. It will come down to the young linebacking corp and new starter at DE Ogbonnia Okoronkwo to not allow Ward to break contain.
The Cougars have all the exciting tools in order to pull off the upset. A great offense and an intelligent coach in Herman. The Sooners have too much depth and proven ability across the board that will eventually overwhelm Houston.
In order for Houston to win, Ward must be the Heisman candidate people think he is. In order for Oklahoma to win, Mayfield just needs to be a game manager. Perine and Mixon should get the brunt of the work. If they are allowed gaps by a talented offensive line, the Sooners will control the game. Houston’s defense has talent but depth is a large question.
I expect a close game early with some fireworks but the running game of Oklahoma helps the Sooners pull away towards the half and afterwards. 41-24 Sooners.