Five Questions: Oklahoma vs. West Virginia

Sooners Illustrated asks and answers five questions concerning the 2007 Fiesta Bowl, which features No. 3 Oklahoma and No. 9 West Virginia. The two kick off at 7 p.m. Wednesday and when they do, they've got some questions to answer. Until then, we'll answer these.

A month-long wait finally comes to an end Wednesday night when Oklahoma and West Virginia take to the field to decide the 2007 Fiesta Bowl.

No. 3 Oklahoma and the No. 9 Mountaineers kick off at 7 p.m. (CST) at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz.

There's a multitude of news pulling attention away from the game itself (ie. the WVU coaching situation and Oklahoma's recent off-the-field issues).

However, there are also some questions that will help decide the game on the field.

Sooners Illustrated will take a look at five questions concerning both on- and off-the-field factors. We'll also do our best to answer them as the countdown to kickoff continues…

1. Can WVU overcome all the distractions concerning the departure of Rich Rodriguez?

Answer: As if Rodriguez bolting for Michigan weren't enough, now there's all the talk concerning him trying to get out of his buyout clause. The university's mad, the fans are mad, the governor's mad and the WVU Board of Regents is suing. Sure, it has little to do with the team itself, but it's still a major distraction. The Mountaineers are dealing with a new head coach (interim man Bill Stewart) and wondering about their future coach as well. And we won't even discuss the possible mindset of the Mountaineers after blowing their chance at the national title game in losing to Pitt their last time out. It would be easy to let your mind drift away from the current task, which is beating the Sooners. That's hard enough when they've got your full attention.

2. The Sooners have had their own set of distractions. How will they handle them, especially with the losses they've caused on the defensive side?

Answer: Reggie Smith's got a bum toe. Lendy Holmes isn't doing his homework. DeMarcus Granger got chilly in the desert and had a severe brain fart. All that leaves OU without three defensive starters. Although Granger stole some headlines for a day, it's unlikely these issues caused too much commotion in the Sooners' preparation. However, there's still the issue of having to fill some gaps on defense, especially the outer edges of your defensive backfield. So the issues have caused some personnel problems, but no major distractions. Still, that leads us to…

3. Can Oklahoma slow down the WVU option attack?

Answer: You certainly like your chances a lot better with Smith, Holmes and Granger in the lineup when you've got guys like Pat White and Steve Slaton on the other side of the ball. Although Granger was a playmaker, there's experience to fill his spot. The same can't be said for some of the guys who will fill in for Smith and Holmes (Brian Jackson and Dominique Franks). WVU's not a big threat to throw, but the Mountaineers do test a defense's perimeter with their option attack and speed. If nothing else, Smith and Holmes were dependable tacklers. Filling that void will be imperative. Despite the loss, Oklahoma still has guys named Curtis Lofton, Auston English, Gerald McCoy, D.J. Wolfe and others. They're not bad and neither is the Sooners' speed on defense. Consider how well Oklahoma's done against the run all season and you've got to like the Sooners' chances against the run-happy Mountaineers.

4. Can WVU handle Oklahoma's offense?

Answer: Most of the talk is going to center around the explosive WVU offense against the stingy OU defense, and for good reason, but there's another game within the game going on. OU averages 43.4 points a game, good for third in the nation. The Mountaineers give up only 17.25 a game, good for seventh best. Something's got to give. The Mountaineers have faced some explosive offenses in the Big East, but none as versatile, balanced and overpowering as Oklahoma's.

5. Can the Sooners get over their BCS hex?

Answer: Entering this year's Fiesta Bowl, Oklahoma has lost its last three appearances in BCS bowls. They include the 2003 Sugar Bowl to LSU; the 2004 Orange Bowl to USC; and last year's Fiesta Bowl to Boise State. The lone exception was a 2005 Holiday Bowl victory over the Oregon Ducks. There are a couple of ways to look at it. One would be that the Sooners are struggling in BCS games and have to find a way to reverse the troubling trend. The other, more realistic, view is that the Sooners are playing in their fourth BCS game in five years (a state most schools would kill to have on their resume). Having lost three in a row, the law of averages is on their side.

Sooners Illustrated pick: Not too many prognosticators are picking the Mountaineers to win this game and the list of reasons is long. The simplest way to put it is that Oklahoma's a better overall team. Our pick: Oklahoma 38, WVU 17.


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