(image via The Houston Chronicle)
The 2016 Oklahoma football schedule is arguably one of the toughest schedules in Bob Stoops’ tenure. This is designation comes largely from their non-conference slate. The only other time a Stoops’ coached team was scheduled to play two (projected at this point) ranked non-conference opponents was in 2009 (#20 BYU and #17 Miami). With Houston and Ohio State winning their New Year’s Six bowls in 2015, the likelihood that both of these schools will be inside the preseason Top-25 rankings is very good.
During his time at Oklahoma, Bob Stoops has only started the season with an away or neutral site game three times. Only once has he began a season against a ranked opponent. In 2016, he will not only be away from home, he will also be playing a ranked opponent in Houston. Then in week two, Louisiana Monroe comes to Norman. Rounding out the three game non-conference slate is Ohio State. The clash of two of the college football blue bloods is one of the most anticipated games for the entire 2016 college football season.
Houston at NRG Stadium in Houston~
(image via Bob Levey)
For Houston, it starts and ends with quarterback, Greg Ward Jr. His speed and versatility causes headaches for opposing defensive coordinators. Ward is the kind of quarterback that has given Mike Stoops’ and Oklahoma trouble over his second tenure with the Sooners. Houston is not shy about competing against blue bloods. The Cougars won the 2015-2016 Peach Bowl over Florida State. Returning eight players on offense means that the high powered machine should not skip a beat. The problem? Tom Herman and Houston only return five players on defense.
OFFENSE: Tom Herman was able to lead his 2015 Ohio State offense to a national title, and now he has his Houston offenses rolling at a high level. The Cougars’ offense thrives with the zone read. It is an offense built around Greg Ward Jr. Herman’s offense is a mix of what you see of Clemson and Baylor. They will spread you out with the receivers lining up outside the hash marks, and then make you choose between playing six or seven in the box. The overall offensive scheme is one that has given Mike Stoops’ and his defense problems over the years. Having three months to prepare, the hope is that Oklahoma will be ready to defend the high-powered Houston offense.
DEFENSE: Defensively, Houston just plays hard. They play as if they have something to prove. The Cougars’ will run multiple fronts and secondaries. They will bring eight or nine in the box at times. They will drop eight or nine into coverage sometimes. Their defensive scheme is very similar to what Brent Venables’ does at Clemson. As mentioned previously, one thing they do not have going for them is that they only returns five players on defense, and only one secondary player. Look for Lincoln Riley and Baker Mayfield to attack the back end of the Cougars’ defense.
PREDICTION: Oklahoma should be able to physically impose their will against Houston. They have the more talent in this game. The lone question, Can the Sooners play disciplined enough defense and not allow Greg Ward Jr. to make it a track meet? That will be the difference between Oklahoma starting 1-0 and 0-1. Greg Ward Jr. is the kind of player that a defense will not be able to stop, they can only try and contain him. With that, I expect this game to be reasonably low scoring for both sides.
Oklahoma wins 37-34. Austin Seibert knocks in three field goals, and Baker Mayfield accounts for three touchdowns. Greg Ward Jr. and Mayfield assert themselves in the Heisman race early. As much as both defenses try, this game turns into a track meet, but both offenses struggle to score in the red zone.
Louisiana Monroe in Norman~
(image via ulmwarhawks.com)
Relief. That is the only word that can describe this game. Coming off a 2-11 performance in 2015, Louisiana Monroe comes at a good time for Oklahoma. They do return a solid quarterback in Garrett Smith, but their offense sputtered through all of 2015. Add the fact that the Warhawks will be young along the defensive line, and are breaking in a new head coach, and you can see why this game is of much needed relief with Ohio State coming into Norman the next weekend.
PREDICTION: Oklahoma eases to a 66-17 win in the first game of their newly renovated Gaylord-Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium.
Ohio State in Norman~
One of the most anticipated games of the 2016 college football season will be when the Ohio State Buckeyes travel to Norman, Oklahoma. Two college football blue bloods clash in a game with huge College Football Playoff implications. The Buckeyes will be coming into Norman with fifteen new starters. Bowling Green and Tulsa will be good games to get Ohio State’s inexperienced players prepared, but they will not see the same kind of athletes Oklahoma will present to them on September 17th.
OFFENSE: Urban Meyer does return his Heisman candidate quarterback, J.T. Barrett, but only return two other starters and they are along the offensive line. Fortunately for Oklahoma, what they will have seen from Houston is what they will see from Ohio State. While Ezekiel Elliot was at Ohio State, they were a power zone-read team. They use a lot of run-pass options as well. Essentially, what Ohio State does offensively is what has caused Oklahoma problems the last three to four years. Ohio State will continue running the same set of plays until someone proves they can stop it. This will be an area that if Oklahoma can slow down the Buckeyes’ running game, it will give them a good chance to win. Mike Stoops and the Oklahoma defense will be tested yet again. The Sooners will have to play discipline football and be zoned in every play in order to slow down the Buckeyes’ offense.
DEFENSE: Joey Bosa and the rest of the defensive line highlighted the Ohio State defense the last three years. Ohio State had the luxury of getting pressure while sending only four or or five rushers. Time will tell, but Joey Bosa is not walking through that door. Do they have freak athletes still? Yes. But that is one player that you just cannot replace. Ohio State stays in a four man front for the most part. They switch from their base 4-3 to a nickel package depending on personnel. Up the middle, linebacker Raekwon McMillan is one of the best in the country. He has great sideline-to-sideline speed and is physical up the middle. Outside of him, Ohio State will be very green. Can Lincoln Riley take advantage of Ohio State’s inexperience? One thing is for sure, Ohio State will have plenty of good athletes on the field despite their experience, and that is something Oklahoma cannot take lightly.
PREDICTION: Experience is a huge factor early on in the season. Oklahoma’s offensive line was exploited early into 2015 for that exact reason. This is why Oklahoma has the edge here. Home field advantage is great, as is having the momentum from last season, but nothing is more important than experience during these early non-conference contests.
Oklahoma wins this game 38-24. Huge recruiting weekend, new stadium, biggest crowd in Oklahoma football history, and most importantly, experience are the reasons why Oklahoma wins comfortably here. This puts the Sooners at 3-0 heading into their conference slate.