Traditionally, Week one games don’t offer much intrigue. Sure, we get a handful of storied programs facing off against each other in sterile, uninspired neutral sites, but rarely do we get games that offer much intrigue. That won’t be the case in Norman, OK this Saturday, however.
On Saturday, the Sooners are hosting one of, if not the, best group of five team in the country. Florida Atlantic enters 2018 as the prohibitive favorite in the C-USA, and while that might not be overly impressive to some, I would caution any team to take FAU lightly at their own peril. It should be one of the best games to watch on this opening Saturday of college football.
DATE & TIME: SAT, SEP 1, 11:00 AM CST
LOCATION: Oklahoma Memorial Stadium (Norman, OK)
FORECAST: Sunny and 90 degrees
BETTING LINE: OU -21
STREAM: Sling TV
Few teams outside the Power 5 will garner as much attention as Florida Atlantic. That will happen though when your head coach, Lane Kiffin, is one of the most polarizing figures in college football. Kiffin has always generated opinions no matter where is was coaching, and Florida Atlantic has been no different. Kiffin turned Florida Atlantic into one of the most dominant teams in the country down the stretch last year. The Owls lost a number of key contributors from 2017, but thanks to Kiffin bringing in a number of high level transfers, Florida Atlantic has the potential to be just as good, if not better than last year.
Offensively the Owls will look to junior running back Devin Singletary to lead the way. Singletary isn’t the biggest running back (5-foot-9, 200 pounds), but don’t be fooled, this is one of the toughest runners in all of college football. Singletary carried the ball over three hundred times in 2017, and amassed over nineteen hundred yards on the ground. If the Oklahoma defense is unable to contain Singletary then the Owls chances of pulling off the upset will go up significantly.
Florida Atlantic’s new defensive coordinator Tony Pecoraro will have his work cut out for him on Saturday. Oklahoma, although breaking in a new quarterback (more on that in a second), will come into 2018 ready to show off one of the most high flying, dynamic offenses in the entire country. If the Owls hope to have any success in slowing the Sooners down, it will fall mostly on the shoulder of the linebacker duo of Azeez Al-Shaair and Rashad Smith.
In 2017, Al-Shaair and Smith combined for 22 tackles for loss and eight and a half sacks, not to mention almost 250 combined tackles. The Oklahoma offense will almost certainly be looking to establish the run with Rodney Anderson, and it will be up to Al-Shaair and Smith to try and contain him.
Oklahoma ended last season in one of the most disappointing fashions imaginable. After racing out to a huge lead in the National Semifinal game, the Sooners didn’t have the gas in the second half, and watched as Georgia punched their ticket to the championship game. On top of that the Sooners enter 2018 without their Heisman winning, and #1 overall draft pick quarterback in Baker Mayfield. Additionally, the Sooners will have to replace two all-conference offensive lineman, and Mackey award winner Mark Andrews.
So is all lost for the Sooners? Not at all.
Despite the list of woes just listed, Oklahoma enters the 2018 season ranked 7th in the nation, and the prohibitive favorite to win the Big 12, and push for a playoff spot. The reality is that the Sooners are not a team that rebuilds, they are a team that reloads.
Offensively, Oklahoma will look to quarterback Kyler Murray to lead the way. Murray is a former five star recruit, and noted transfer from Texas A&M. He is also notable for the fact that this past summer he was drafted ninth overall in the MLB draft by the Oakland Athletics. Despite signing a million dollar contract, Murray decided to stay for one more year with the Sooners.
Murray is listed as 5-foot-10 and 195 pounds. What he lacks in size, he more than makes up for in rushing ability. Murray is lightning quick, and will certainly be able to test defenses with his ability to run. The main question about Murray is his passing ability. Obviously, as an MLB signee he has a big enough arm, but in his limited time on the field for Texas A&M and Oklahoma, he has never really had to show it off all that much.
Murray has the fortune of a having a loaded receiving core, and maybe more fortunately, he will have the option of handing the ball off to Rodney Anderson. Anderson wasn’t the starter when 2017 kicked off, but it was clear by season’s end who was the best running back on the roster. Anderson averaged over six yards per carry, and was one of the main reasons that Oklahoma become nearly unstoppable down the stretch.
Defensively, Oklahoma is replacing a lot. The Sooners are returning six starters on defense, but some of the missing pieces from 2017 are big ones. Most notably Oklahoma will have to find a way to replace Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, who led the team with eight sacks and seventeen tackles for loss.
One player to keep an eye on for this Oklahoma defense is Kenneth Murray. Murray is only a sophomore, but as a freshman last year was third on the team in total tackles, and second in tackles for loss. Murray will be vital in slowing down Singletary.
KEYS TO THE GAME
1. BATTLE OF THE RUNNING BACKS – I believe that whoever is more successful rushing the ball is going to be the most likely winner of this game. Both teams have quarterbacks who can run the ball well, but ultimately whichever backfield thrives is likely to win this game.
2. MATURITY OF MURRAY – Kyler Murray is a household name, but this will be his first time as the undisputed starter for a program. Following in Baker Mayfield’s footsteps is no small task, and how Murray is able to deal with the pressure of being “the guy” will show a lot about how this game will turn out, and likely the rest of the season for Oklahoma.
3. QUICK STARTS – For both teams this will be huge. If Florida Atlantic can get off to a quick start it will give them the belief that they can hang with Oklahoma throughout this game. In that same vein however, if Oklahoma can be clicking on all cylinders from the first whistle, then they should be able to take Florida Atlantic out of the game quickly.
I think that a 21 point spread for this game is absurd. Florida Atlantic is a really good football team, I don’t care what conference they play in. Also, it can’t be overstated how much Kiffin seems to thrive in the underdog role. I really think that the Owls are going to run the ball with success. Oklahoma is going to be breaking in a lot of new defensive players, and it is going to take a few games for the defense to really gel. Also, it should be mentioned that Mike Stoops is still the defensive coordinator for Oklahoma, and that shouldn’t inspire too much confidence in any of the Sooner faithful.
At the end of the day though I think that Oklahoma will get enough stops to win this game, and the offense should shine. I wouldn’t be shocked at all to see Anderson with upwards of 150+ rushing yards, and for Murray to show off his athleticism throughout the game.
Florida Atlantic will cover the spread, but give me Oklahoma to win this game by 14.