Michael Wagner needs to have a very good day to keep Iowa State in this game. A very good day? How about a CA-REEEER day. That's what the Cyclones will want to see. And it wouldn't hurt if Austin Flynn did his best Marv Seiler impersonation, either. Advantage: OKLAHOMA.
ISU pass offense vs. Oklahoma pass defense: Teams have been able to move the football occasionally via the passing game against the top-ranked Sooners. However, the trade-off is that you're going to get sacked a handful of times—which will kill drives—and you'll get picked off a time or two…or three. Last season, Oklahoma's free safety Brandon Everage was everywhere. And it seemed like Oklahoma was using 15 players on defense (which would be illegal, by the way).
If Flynn can learn the importance of throwing the ball away now and then…and can manage to complete some safe passes, mixed with a few big plays, ISU could hang around for a while in this one. Another key is for Flynn to get through this game healthy. There are still seven more games on the schedule. If the freshman QB throws 35 passes and runs 20 times, he might get knocked right into his sophomore season. Advantage: OKLAHOMA.
Oklahoma run offense vs. ISU run defense: Kejuan Jones is the Sooners' leading rusher, with 231 yards. Renaldo Works (his name is a sentence) has scored four touchdowns on the ground for Coach Bobby Stoops' team. The Cyclones have done a pretty good job against the run so far this year, but with Jordan Carstens doubtful for Saturday's game, ISU will need someone else to step up. Advantage: PUSH.
Oklahoma pass offense vs. ISU pass defense: Jason White has completed 65% of his passes for 1,088 yards, including 11 touchdowns and only three interceptions. White's QB rating is 157.3, which is very impressive. He also does a good job of spreading the ball around to a lot of different receivers, as eight different Sooners have caught at least five passes through four games.
I'll give the edge to Oklahoma in this category, but if ISU is to stay in this game deep into the second half, White is going to have to make some big mistakes. The Cyclones will need to have about three interceptions…and return one of them for a score. Advantage: OKLAHOMA.
Special Teams: The Sooners have one of the very best coaching staffs in America. Of course, this translates into having some strong, play-making special teams. One of Oklahoma's biggest plays this season was a fake punt from deep in Sooner territory. It worked…and Oklahoma won the game by a TD. On the other hand, ISU has struggled with some of its special teams so far this year, including having a pair of punts blocked in the second half against Iowa. The Cyclones will not have any margin for error on Saturday. Advantage: OKLAHOMA.
Coaching: Dan McCarney has led Iowa State to three consecutive bowl games after taking over a program that was in terrible shape a decade ago. However, Bob Stoops and his staff are probably as good as it gets in college football. Advantage: OKLAHOMA.
Intangibles: It's been two weeks since the Sooners played, so maybe they'll be sluggish…like a wet sponge…on Saturday. And perhaps the Cyclones will use last season's 49-3 loss to Oklahoma as motivation to prove that they have a much better program than that.
How about comparative scores? The Sooners only defeated Alabama 20-13 a month ago. Northern Illinois defeated 'Bama, 19-16. So, how big of a disparity is there between Oklahoma and the Huskies? (Please keep your answers to yourself…I'm trying to be optimistic here.) Advantage: IOWA STATE.
PREDICTION: Iowa State will get off to a good start on Saturday as Oklahoma will turn the ball over twice in the first quarter. The Cyclones will be within seven points at halftime, but the Sooners' defense will become much more aggressive—and effective—in the second half. FINAL: OKLAHOMA 38, IOWA STATE 17.
(Marty Gallagher founded the popular web site IowaSportsOpinions.com. You can e-mail him at Marty@IowaSportsOpinions.com.)