#3 Oklahoma Sooners vs #15 Houston Cougars
Saturday, September 3, 2016, 12:05 pm Eastern, TV: ABC
NRG Stadium – Houston, Texas
Opening Line: Oklahoma -10
Current Line: Oklahoma -12 1/2
Opening Total: 66
Current Total: 68
Opening Money Line: Oklahoma -405 / Houston +340
Current Money Line: Oklahoma -470 / Houston +390
The Oklahoma Sooners and Houston Cougars each won at least 11 games last year and played in major bowls. Oklahoma was 11-2 and won the Big 12 under coach Bob Stoops. The Sooners would lose to Clemson in the playoff semifinals. Houston was 13-1 and won the American Athletic Conference under coach Tom Herman. The Cougars beat Florida State in the Peach Bowl last year.
Oklahoma and Houston open the season Saturday in a technically neutral site battle of top 15 teams in the pre-season poll. Houston is not playing in their home stadium but they playing in the same city at NRG Stadium that the Houston Texans call home. Oklahoma is #3 and Houston is #15. Oklahoma has won both previous match-ups against Houston including 63-13 in Norman in 2004. The Cougars will play in Norman in 2019 to complete the home and home.
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Oklahoma averaged 530 yards per game on offense including 308 passing and 222 rushing yards per game. The Sooners scored 44 points a game. On defense, Oklahoma allowed 365 yards per game including 203 passing and 162 rushing yards. The Sooners allowed 22 points per game. Oklahoma was +8 in turnovers and forced 27 turnovers. The Sooners averaged 62 penalty yards per game. Oklahoma was 88/198 on third and fourth down conversions and opponents were 99/244. OU forced 40 sacks and allowed 41 last season. The Sooners were 61/69 scoring in the red zone with 46 touchdowns and opponents were 34/43 with 23 touchdowns.
It all starts with junior quarterback Baker Mayfield. The transfer from Texas Tech beat out incumbent Trevor Knight for the starting job last fall. Mayfield threw for 3,700 yards with 36 touchdowns and 7 interceptions. He also rushed for 405 yards with 7 touchdowns. Mayfield finished in the top five in the Heisman voting and could contend again this season. Freshman Austin Kendall is expected to be the back-up as Knight transferred to Texas A&M.
Oklahoma also had a powerful 1-2 punch at running back with Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon. After an incredible freshman season, Perine came into 2015 as a dark horse Heisman contender. He didn’t quite live up to those lofty expectations, mainly because the passing game was more dangerous with Mayfield at the helm. Still, Perine still rushed for 1,349 yards with 16 touchdowns, and also made 15 catches with a touchdown. Mixon made his Sooners’ debut after being suspended for all of 2014. He rushed for 753 yards with 7 touchdowns and also made 28 catches for 356 yards with 4 touchdowns.
The Sooners do lose go-to receiver Sterling Shepard who was drafted by the New York Giants in the second round of the NFL draft. Shepard had 86 catches for 1,288 yards and 11 touchdowns. Dede Westbrook is expected to take over as the top wide receiver. He had 46 catches for 743 yards and 4 touchdowns in 2015. Durron Neal has also graduated after making 44 catches with 3 touchdowns last season. Mark Andrews had only 19 catches but 7 of them went for touchdowns. Jarvis Baxter will also start along with Penn State transfer Geno Lewis. Lewis made only 17 catches last year but made 55 for the Nittany Lions in 2014. Fullback Dimitri Flowers didn’t get any carries but he did have four touchdown catches last year.
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Houston averaged 484 yards per game on offense including 248 passing and 236 rushing yards. The Cougars scored 40 points per game. Houston allowed 384 yards per game on offense including 275 passing and 109 rushing yards. The Cougars allowed 21 points per game. Houston was +21 in turnovers and forced 35 turnovers. The Cougars averaged 56 penalty yards per game. Houston was 130/258 on third and fourth down conversions and opponents were 87/228. The Cougars forced 36 sacks and allowed 28 last season. Houston was 59/67 scoring in the red zone with 49 touchdowns and opponents were 32/35 with 25 touchdowns.
Quarterback Greg Ward, Jr. threw for 2,828 yards with 17 touchdowns and 6 interceptions, and had 198 carries for 1,108 yards with 21 touchdowns. He could be a dark horse Heisman candidate. Kyle Postma threw for 453 yards with 3 touchdowns and an interception and rushed for 194 yards with a touchdown. He will be the back-up again but could take some snaps.
Houston must replace running back Kenneth Farrow who is now with the San Diego Chargers. Farrow had 185 carries for 958 yards and 12 touchdowns, and he made 10 catches. Texas transfer Duke Catalon is expected to be the starter. Freshman Mulbah Car will also get some carries.
Receiver Demarcus Ayers left early for the NFL after making 98 catches for 1,222 yards and six touchdowns. Chance Allen had 56 catches for 752 yards and 6 touchdowns. Ra’Shaad Samples a transfer from Oklahoma State was supposed to make an impact but is out with a concussion.
Oklahoma is 7-1 ATS in September, 6-2 overall and 0-4 in neutral site games.
Houston is 4-0 ATS in non-conference games, 12-2 on grass, 8-2 in September, 7-2 in neutral site games and and 9-4 overall.
This could be a shootout as both offenses were explosive. Despite being in Houston, there will be plenty of Sooner fans who make the trip South. Houston has a lot of injuries and I think Oklahoma wins and covers.