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: 12-1
Last year vs. OU: N/A
Why this game is dangerous: Think about this: Ohio State stumbled offensively for much of last season and still averaged 35.7 points per game. All of the best weapons are in the NFL, but J.T. Barrett is still in at quarterback and let’s not fall into the trap that the Buckeyes don’t have talent waiting on the sideline. The defense took a big hit from the NFL, too – six starters were drafted. But there are re-enforcements there also, including a tandem of defensive ends that should be really scary on the outside – Sam Hubbard and Tyquan Lewis (who Justin covered in high school and is a really good kid). Ohio State, which averaged twice as many rushing yards as it allowed, has one of the best running games in the nation, and that should be a little bit worrisome for an Oklahoma defense that returns only three starters to its front seven. Both Ohio State and Oklahoma have dreams of making the College Football Playoff. Sept. 17 could be a determining factor in which team makes it. Ohio State isn’t going to worry about losing all that talent, but that should have Oklahoma worried. This game should be a clash of titans and a thrilling one, to say the least. One or two mistakes will change the outcome. It’s going to be a fun showdown.
Opponent to watch: Barrett is big, and whoever fills in for running back Ezekiel Elliott will have to be huge. The receivers have to come alive at some point, but it’s the offensive line that will be key for Ohio State. The matchup in Norman will be the first real test for a unit that will have to replace both tackles and starting center Jacoby Boren. True freshman Michael Jordan could slot into the right guard spot while position swapping takes place around him. Jordan will have to standout as a non-weakness. Against Tulsa and Bowling Green in the first two weeks of the season, the Buckeyes should get a little bit of rust off in those tune-ups. Oklahoma up front on defense and the Ohio State offensive line should be the match to keep an eye on. Oklahoma will have to stop the Ohio State rushing attack. If the Sooners don’t, it’ll be a long night. If they do, it could be a long season for Ohio State.
Prediction: Excitement. Entertaining. Down-to-the-wire. Thrilling. How it gets there or why is really anyone’s guess that this point. I’m not going to trivialize the game by trying to guess how many touchdown passes Baker Mayfield throws or how many sacks Charles Walker finishes with, right now. At this point, just enjoy this game for what it will be. Ultimately, Ohio State’s run game wins out, and the Buckeyes leave with a victory.