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: 13-1
Last year vs. OU: N/A
Why this game is dangerous: Coming into a new season against an opponent that isn’t a slouch: That’s a tough task for any team. Now playing a top-25 opponent on the road (basically in Houston’s home stadium) is an entirely different animal. Beyond the specifics of possible matchups (Oklahoma’s new linebacker group against the Houston offense), the setting alone makes for a challenge for the Sooners. As for the specifics, the Cougars are aiming even higher than the Chick-Fil-A Bowl win against Florida State that capped Tom Herman’s first season as head coach – Herman’s first head coaching job, period. Cougars’ quarterback Greg Ward is the biggest reason this is a scary season opener for Oklahoma. Think, Trevone Boykin-lite – although not that lite. Ward has a few talented weapons around him too.
Opponent to watch: Receiver is a major hole for the Cougars after the unexpected departure of Demarcus Ayers. Running back Kenneth Farrow left as well. Replacing those two will be two players very familiar with Oklahoma. Former Texas running back Duke Catalon sat out last season but could start this year. Ex-Oklahoma State receiver Ra’Shaad Samples will fill in the slot, a place that Ayers vacated. Defense will be an issue for Houston, which returns just five starters but the Cougars are built on offense. Ward might be a dark horse Heisman candidate but his weapons will determine how high Houston goes this season.
Prediction: This game is a shootout from the beginning. Houston’s weakness is on the back end. Baker Mayfield has a field day, throwing for 400 yards. Oklahoma can’t corral Ward though, who gains more than 400 yards of total offense, including 100 on the ground. The crowd leans heavily towards Houston for much of the game until Oklahoma gets a big turnover – let’s say an Ahmad Thomas or Steven Parker interception – in the fourth quarter. Oklahoma runs out the clock the rest of the way to hold on to a 44-38 victory.