Start time: Saturday, September 3rd — 12pm EST
Location: NRG Stadium, Houston, Texas
Stream: WATCH ESPN
Betting Line: Oklahoma opened at -10; line is at OU -11.5 as of this writing according to VegasInsider.com
Series record: Oklahoma leads 2-0
This is arguably the most impactful game of the biggest opening weekend in college football history.
If OU wins, it will prove its quality and validate the believers who chose the Sooners to make it to the College Football Playoff.
If UH wins, it will be seismic.
UH could take a giant step toward a date with destiny as the first G5 school to shake up the CFP by bullying its way into the club. There are more hurdles between now and December, obviously, and the Cougars must remain perfect but no hurdle will be bigger than OU.
Quarterback Baker Mayfield was one of the cover boys of ESPN The Magazine’s college football preview edition.
His story, fiery personality and athletic ability are well known. Rest assured, he didn’t get worse in the offseason. Nor did the fire that drives him simmer down.
He has a two-headed beast in the backfield with running backs Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon. Again, unless you’ve been living under a rock, this isn’t groundbreaking information.
But Perine needs just 1,057 yards to break OU’s all-time rushing record — and he’s a junior. Even in the second year of Lincoln Riley’s wide open offense, he’ll get his carries. And so will Mixon.
Luckily for all of OU’s opponents, WR Sterling Shepard has moved on to the NFL. But Dede Westbrook and 6-5, 250-pound Mark Andrews will have to be contained in the passing game.
OU’s defense has some experience on the line but will have to replace two starting linebackers, most notably Eric Striker.
The name being bandied about as the one to watch in the LB corps is Ogbonnia Okoronkwo. “Obo,” as he is called on the team, made an impression last year but this year senior inside linebacker Jordan Evans called him a “freak of nature.”
Greg Ward, Jr. was one of the cover boys of Sports Illustrated’s college football preview edition.
He’s as soft-spoken as Mayfield is brash. But he’s a hell of an athlete and this might be his biggest stage. Yes, the win over FSU to cap an incredible 2015 was outstanding, but if he leads the Cougars to victory over the No. 3 team in the nation, he might just be able to lead them to the promised land of the College Football Playoff.
He’ll need every ounce of athleticism to overcome one of the best defenses he’s ever faced.
UH’s stable of running backs is as unproven as OU’s is well known. Duke Catalon, the Texas transfer, will lead the way but many anticipate the introduction of true freshman Mulbah Car.
On the outside, wide receivers Chance Allen, Steven Dunbar and Ra’Shaad Samples are a speedy trio. But also watch for Linell Bonner and Isaiah Johnson, who I recently profiled, to factor into the mix.
Allen is a proven commodity, but Johnson could bring a surprise element to the game. Regardless of who catches the ball, the receivers are a talented group and if UH can capitalize on their big play abilities, it could genuinely balance the scales.
The offensive line is a young but capable group led by center Will Noble. If they can give Greg Ward time, “the sky is the limit” for how explosive the offense can be, Isaiah Johnson said.
The defensive front seven will have the unenviable job of corralling Perine and Mixon. Cameron Malveaux is the unquestionable leader of the defense as a whole and heartbeat of the D-line.
Linebackers Matt Adams, Steven Taylor and Tyus Bowser will patrol the field behind the linemen. Coach Tom Herman said of Adams and Taylor on USA Today’s Football Four podcast that he doesn’t think “there is a combination of linebackers that enjoys hitting people as these two do and when they hit you, man, you feel it.”
Brandon Wilson will lead the secondary after William Jackson III departed for the NFL. No one in the group is listed above 6-1, so OU’s Andrews will certainly have a height advantage.
This one is rough. I can see several scenarios. I can see OU winning close. I can see a close game in which OU pulls away in the end and wins by 10 or 12.
I can see UH coming and playing “90 miles an hour with its hair on fire,” to slightly modify a quote from Top Gun.
The Cougars have a legitimate chance to win this game, and in a vote-with-your-head or vote-with-your-heart situation, I’m going to take Houston to pull off the upset.
Houston wins, 31-27.