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Ohio State Buckeyes at Oklahoma Sooners: Preview, Predictions & Prognostications

When: Sat. Sept. 17, 2016; 7:30 pm ET
Where: Norman, OK; Oklahoma Memorial Stadium (84,000)
TV: Fox
All-Time Series: Tied 1-1
Last Meeting: Ohio State won 24-14 (in 1983)
Line: Ohio State -2

Ohio State has scheduled some great home-and-home series over the past decade, but this one has the most hype since the Texas series a decade ago. The Sooners and the Buckeyes have been two of the most consistent forces in college football in the BCS and Playoff era, and both programs lead the pack in AP Poll #1 rankings all-time. Indeed, when these programs last played a series, coaches like Woody Hayes and Barry Switzer roamed the sidelines.

All the history aside, this game has already changed in perception thanks to OSU’s fast start to the season and Oklahoma’s stumble out of the gates against Houston opening weekend. All of a sudden, the Buckeyes are a road favorite in this game rather than this being an underdog. Oklahoma may need this game just to stay alive in the race for the College Football Playoff.

Both teams have the talent and aspirations for another playoff run, but only one will walk out of Norman with one of the best wins (on paper) for the 2016 season.

1 Burning Question: How will both teams handle adversity?

This question is inherently more directed towards the Buckeyes, who strolled through two fairly easy victories (even though the first half against Tulsa was not great). The young Buckeyes have not really faced a tough situation to prove they can respond, let alone in a hostile road environment. There’s a lot to be said for youth and exuberance, but J.T. Barrett and Raekwon McMillan aside, this set of OSU players has not proven the toughness and clutch instincts that championship teams need to show in the biggest moments and games. Those leaders will be critical when adversity strikes in this game, which is most certainly will with an opponent of this caliber.

However, the question also applies to Oklahoma, which was not able to overcome adversity and respond with a big play when Houston took a touchdown lead thanks to the field goal return play two weeks ago. For a team which set the Big 12 on fire with 530 yards per game and 43.5 points per game in 2015, being held under 400 yards and 25 points by the Cougars was not a good response to a first taste of adversity. Nevertheless, that was an opening week game and one would figure the Sooners will be much better when adversity strikes in this game and future games.

Hopefully both teams handle the bad moments well and we end up with a close game, decided by the best efforts of the Heisman candidate quarterbacks and by innovative play calls from these two stacked coaching staffs.

2 Key Stats:

— 100+. That’s the amount of yards Oklahoma has rushed for in every victory of 2015-16 (12 wins), while being 0-3 when not reaching this mark. With Lincoln Riley’s spread attack from his days at Texas Tech led by an experience quarterback in Baker Mayfield, the Sooners have consistently achieved 200-500 yards in the passing game each week since the beginning of last season. But the stat which proves most telling in the Sooner losses is rushing (only 67 yards against Texas and Clemson last year, only 70 against Houston this season), as Oklahoma does not win unless they go for 100 or more yards. Thus, a clear key to stopping Oklahoma is making them one-dimensional enough to be predictable. OSU has held its first two opponents under 100 rushing, but can the feat be achieved against the likes of Samaje Perine, Mayfield, and Joe Mixon?

— 7. That’s the number of interceptions the Buckeyes already have in 2016 (as well as the total for Baker Mayfield since the beginning of 2015). One key to making sure a pass-happy offense works is avoiding mistakes like interceptions, especially ones that turn into points. The Buckeyes have generated 7 interceptions and returned 3 for touchdowns already this season, blowing open a close Tulsa first half thanks to these big plays. With Mayfield having not made any mistakes of this sort yet this year, expect this to be a key indicator of whether Oklahoma can maintain control and produce big results against this talented and apparently ball-hawking OSU secondary.

3 Key Players:

Mike Weber, Ohio State RB: Although the carries have been spread out to include significant contributions from hybrid back Curtis Samuel as well as quarterback J.T. Barrett, Weber is the new workhorse of this team. His ability to plow through and push back defenders has been clear in the first two weeks, as he is cut from a similar mold as prior backs Carlos Hyde and Ezekiel Elliott. In order to keep Oklahoma from wearing out the Buckeye defense, Weber will need to have another effective day against the Sooners. Anything less than 100 yards and 20+ carries will probably be unacceptable if the Buckeyes want to escape with the road win.

Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma QB: It may be obvious, but Mayfield is the best weapon and leader Oklahoma will bring to the field on Saturday night, and he will have to play well to earn a victory. Mayfield can burn defenses with his legs at times, but OSU’s defense should be accustomed to this type of threat, going against J.T. Barrett in practice each week. More importantly, he may be the first quarterback who can effectively see what flaws and breaks are present in the coverage of a young Buckeye defense, and if he exploits those weaknesses for big plays, that could be the deciding factor. If Mayfield wants a chance at a Heisman or another playoff run, he needs to go out there and win this game.

Malik Hooker, Ohio State S: Much was made of how Ohio State’s inexperience in the secondary could be an Achilles heel in 2016. However, Hooker has provided tons of big plays roaming about the field as a safety, including 3 interceptions and 4 other pass break-ups.

Along with fellow sophomore Marshon Lattimore, Hooker has made the air a dangerous place to play for Buckeye opponents. If he can continue to show the ability to sniff out plays against a savvy quarterback and offensive coordinator, the potential is there for Hooker to make a game-saving or game-winning play on defense. The Sooners would best beware making things too obvious for talents like this one.

4 Bold Prognostications:

— Mayfield and Barrett each throw at least one interception. Although the discussion above of Ohio State’s secondary and interceptions has been in depth, one should not overlook the Oklahoma secondary, which is the best in the Big 12. Led by CB Jordan Thomas and S Ahmad Thomas, the Sooners will have enough experience to force J.T. Barrett into making better decisions than he’s made on a few occasions in the first two weeks of 2016. This is strength on strength for both sides of the ball, and I believe both defenses will make at least one big play against the opposing star quarterback on Saturday night.

— Both offensive coordinators bust out a couple ridiculous trick plays. One one side, you have Lincoln Riley and his spread passing offense. On the other, you have Urban Meyer counseling his two coordinators Tim Beck and Ed Warinner. Ironically, you also have Warinner’s football player son on a recruiting visit to Oklahoma this weekend, but that’s another story. The stage does not get much bigger for both teams, so expect the coaching staffs to have a couple special looks in place to bust out and try to sneak a big play through, while also generating tape for conference rials to fret over as well in the coming weeks.

— Both offenses generate over 450 yards of offense. Despite both defenses being strong enough to slow down most teams on the schedule, this early-season game likely favors the more potent offenses to come out on top. Expect both teams to move the ball effectively at times throughout the game, which means that red zone opportunities and effectiveness could very well decide this match up. With so many weapons and play makers on both teams, it is nearly impossible to guess which player will make the scores to decide the game, and that also makes it unlikely either defense will have an A+ day in this game. 

— The battle of the bands will be almost as good as the battle on the football field. Oklahoma has one of the loudest (and some would argue most obnoxious) bands in college football, blaring out that fight song at every opportunity. Ohio State will be bringing their famed “TBDBITL” to Norman as well, and the Buckeye band can hold its own in the fight song and Hang On Sloopy department. Those who attend the game will be treated to quite the shows from both bands, both at halftime and also when they compete for decibel levels during the game. Expect both to motivate these football teams to play up to the competition and keep the game close deep into the fourth quarter, where the game will be decided (likely by something silly like a special teams play or a Hail Mary pass)

talking10 Staff Predictions Standings

NameAgainst the SpreadStraight-Up Picks
Andy13-721-6
Dave9-1124-3
Phil Harrison8-1224-3
Philip R-R13-724-3
Zach13-724-3

5 Staff Predictions:

Andy: Oklahoma 37-31
Dave: Oklahoma 41-38
Phil H.: Oklahoma 27-24
Philip R.: Ohio State 35-24
Zach: Ohio State 34-24

Dave is a FWAA member and a Columnist focusing on Big Ten football for talking10. Before joining talking in 2014, he was a Featured Columnist for three years at Bleacher Report and previously wrote for seven years on SouthernCollegeSports.com. He was born in Hawkeye Country and went to college in Columbus, so there’s plenty of B1G running through his blood.

Dave is a patent and trademark attorney in his day job. If you have any questions in those areas or about his latest articles, please contact him on Twitter @BuckeyeFitzy.

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