For the third year in a row, Sooners Illustrated breaks down Oklahoma’s most important games for the upcoming season. The rating system is based on the importance of a win, the strength of the opponent and a general idea of how key the game will be in terms of scheduling and performance.
It starts with the easiest game and ends up with the toughest.
2015 record: 8-5
Last year vs. OU: Oklahoma, 44-24
Why this game is dangerous: History and fear. We aren’t too far removed from back-to-back narrow wins against the Mountaineers. Three years ago, Oklahoma pulled off a close 16-7 victory. A year earlier, Landry Jones won a shootout in Morgantown. Now, the Oklahoma Sooners go back to Morgantown, a place they’ve only been twice but a place where they’ve won twice. This game also falls in between home contests against Baylor and Oklahoma State, which could be the two toughest games in the Big 12 Conference for the Sooners. Mountaineers coach Dana Holgorsen might also be backed into a corner. There are rumors are that Holgorsen could be on the outs unless he has a successful season. If patience has run out in Morgantown, the Oklahoma game could be a must-win for Holgorsen, who brings nine starters back to an always-potent offense.
Opponent to watch: Top running back Wendell Smallwood is gone, so it’s easy to look to quarterback Skyler Howard – a two-year senior starter who is coming off a great bowl game against Arizona State. He’s also got a talented receiving corps around him to help balance out the lost of Smallwood, who led West Virginia to the 16th-best rushing attack in the country. Keep an eye on Smallwood’s replacement, though. Rushel Shell is no slouch. He was the key back in West Virginia’s offense last year before he was slowed late in the season by fatigue.
Prediction: Since the Mountaineers joined the Big 12, Oklahoma and West Virginia have played four games – all Oklahoma wins. The Sooners have won by 12 or fewer points in three of the four games but have a combined 32-point margin of victory over the last two years. This year sets up for another shootout. Oklahoma could be distracted by two tougher games sandwiching the trip to Morgantown, and the Mountaineers have a loaded offense. The big key for West Virginia, this season and in this game, is its defense, which is likely to be a bit worse than last season after losing three linebackers and safety Karl Joseph from last season. It’ll be close for a while, but a three-touchdown surge in the second half will help Oklahoma pull away in the fourth quarter, 46-32.