As the first full college football Saturday approaches, fans look to find the key games to watch. One of the games with the most hype and potentially the biggest impact for the rest of the season is the Oklahoma vs. Houston game. The two teams face off at a NRG Stadium in Houston to open their seasons in what could be one of the most interesting games of week one. In preparation for the game, here are seven things to know about the Houston-Oklahoma game.
1. Both teams have star offenses.
On Oklahoma’s side, Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon remain the Sooners’ dominant running backs, running for 1,349 yards and 16 touchdowns and 753 yards and seven touchdowns, respectively. Also, the Sooners’ receivers stand-out as well. While the team lost Sterling Shepard, Dede Westbrook and transfer Geno Lewis step up to become key targets for quarterback Baker Mayfield.
As for Houston, transfer Duke Catalon and incoming freshman Mulbah Car enter as running back, looking to fill Kenneth Farrow’s shoes on the field. At receiver, a wide array of talent, including Chance Allen and Ra’Shaad Samples, remains counted on to make some large contributions. However, Greg Ward Jr. stands as the key to this offense, finishing last year by throwing for more than 2,000 and rushing for more than 1,000.
Both teams can drive a scoreboard’s numbers up, so this game’s outcome may fall to the defense.
2. Both defenses rebuilt with inexperienced players during the offseason.
The Sooners lost most of their major playmakers from last year. However, defensive end Charles Walker, linebacker Jordan Evans, safety Ahmad Thomas and cornerback Jordan Thomas return to lead the defense in the right direction. Also, a wealth of new talent steps onto the field, too, helping Oklahoma fill the gaps left behind.
Houston, however, brings in top-10 national recruit Ed Oliver, who passed up Oklahoma’s offer to play for Houston, to help balance out some of the losses on the defense. Still, outside linebacker Steven Taylor along with Cameron Malveaux, B.J. Singleton and Nick Thurman return to bring some experience to the lineup and prevent points against Houston.
3. Baker Mayfield and Greg Ward Jr. remain huge threats.
The biggest challenges the defenses will face are stopping these two quarterbacks.
Last year, Mayfield threw for 3,700 yards with 36 touchdowns and ran for 405 yards with seven touchdowns. He only had seven interceptions for the season, and he looks to be a 2016 Heisman Trophy candidate. Mayfield also comes into the 2016 season defending his title as one of the most efficient quarterbacks in the nation after completing 269 of 395 passes in 2015.
However, Ward remains similarly impressive. After a breakout 2015 season, Ward joined an elite group of quarterbacks who threw for at least 2,000 yards as well as rushed for 1,000 yards. He also finished fifth in the nation for most rushing touchdowns and broke 14 Houston or American Conference records last year. Coming into 2016, he could also look to be a Heisman Trophy candidate.
While each has his own style, these two quarterbacks battling on the same field should result in an interesting game on Saturday.
4. Houston remains on the losing end of the series.
Saturday will not be the first time these two teams meet.
In 1981, Oklahoma and Houston faced off in the Sun Bowl. Here, the Sooners defeated the Cougars 40-14 after scoring 30 points in the fourth quarter alone.
In 2004, the teams met again. Houston was unable to exact revenge for the loss at the Sun Bowl, being defeated 63-14.
Now in 2016, Houston comes in with what could be argued as one of the best teams the school has ever seen to face the Sooners for the third time and potentially add a win for the Cougars in this series.
5. Houston will attempt to prove itself as a real competitor.
All eyes are on this American Athletic Conference team as they push to be the first non-power five team to make it to the College Football Playoff. This game will set the stage for the rest of Houston’s season. A win proves to football fans across the country that Houston can compete with what could be called one of the toughest teams in the country, yet a loss could fuel doubts about Houston's place among the elite programs.
6. Oklahoma hasn’t done well against quarterbacks like Greg Ward Jr.
In the Orange Bowl last year, the Sooners took on Clemson’s Deshaun Watson, who is the only other quarterback to have thrown for 2,000 yards and rushed for more than 1,000 yards. Watson was able to run for 145 yards and one touchdown and defeated Oklahoma 37-17 at Sun Life Stadium. The defense just couldn’t stop him. However, the Sooners had a single month to prepare for Watson, and this year, they have had eight months to prepare for Ward.
7. Either team could win.
This is a real toss-up game. Both teams want it, and both teams have the talent to gain the win.
Against the powerful Oklahoma defense, it will be difficult for the Cougars to make many moves, and Houston’s defense will have to work hard to shut down Baker Mayfield and the Sooners’ many offensive weapons.
However, Houston has the linebacker to compete with Oklahoma’s running backs and to keep Mayfield quiet. Plus, with Greg Ward Jr. leading the offense, the Cougars’ many targets look to make some major plays.
Both teams have killer coaching staffs that have the ability guide their teams to a victory. However, it will come down to who has a better Saturday. Whoever ends up winning looks to be on the road to a stellar season, but whoever loses will have to work to salvage their season just one game in.