College football is really starting this Saturday? Am I dreaming? Pinch me. Actually, don't: If it's a dream, I don't want to wake up until January. I can actually write about, gasp, games now.
The previous State of Oklahoma articles focused on both teams' offensive and defensive lines. I wanted to spend more time on them because I felt like they arguably represented the most important factors concerning both teams (other than the quarterbacks, whom we already know about). For the offensive and defensive skill positions, I will probably be a bit less detailed, to the delight of those who don't like gigantic posts, and I wanted to get all of that done by the first part of the season. That said, I'm going to put that aside for this week: Oklahoma and Oklahoma State are playing in rare, big opening games, and those are games worth talking about. Next week, OU plays Idaho State, which will probably be much like this:
So we can safely ignore that. Houston vs. OSU is not as bad, but that should not be as much of a concern as this Saturday's game either. Therefore, I'll continue the unit "previews" next week, even though the season would have started by then, and I'll talk about these opening games this week. We'll start with OU vs. BYU.
Brigham Young Cougars: Potential BCS Crashers
Every year, it seems the media loves to locate potential "BCS crashers" from the non-BCS conferences, and BYU is one of them this year. Their road, unfortunately for them, is not nearly as easy as, say, Boise State, whose most difficult game is against the much weaker "OU" (btw, I know Oregon is UO) from the Pac-10. Still, the Cougars have a shot, and I'll briefly summarize their strengths and weaknesses.
1. QB Max Hall
The returning senior quarterback is receiving a bit of hype, at least as much as a MWC player can expect. Last season, he was on the All-MWC second team and he was an All-American honorable mention, throwing for over 4000 yards and 35 touchdowns last season. This includes an eye-popping seven touchdown performance against UCLA. He ain't bad.
2. Tight end
They return tight ends Dennis Pitta and Andrew George. Pitta caught 82 passes and went over the 1,000 yard mark for them and scored six times. Andrew George didn't exactly light up the stat sheet, catching only 26 balls, but did finish with six touchdowns. It is worth noting that Pitta's best games came against weak teams, while he was largely a nonfactor in BYU's losses save perhaps his 8 catch performance in the whipping they got from TCU.
There's nothing snazzy about Harvey Unga, who seemed to have a better freshman season than sophomore season, but he still went over the 1,000 yard mark last year and totaled 11 rushing touchdowns with 42 receptions for 309 yards and four receiving touchdowns. He managed a respectable 4.87 yards per carry, and he provides a lot of versatility as the main back.
1. Offensive line
Similar to the OU offensive line, BYU returns only one starter at left tackle. The difference is that Matt Reynolds was the LT last year rather than the RT. He was on the freshman All-America team and he looks to be a star. Other than him, there's not much experience to look at.
The pass rush was surely a disappointment, but still, BYU got lit up by Arizona and Utah and didn't particularly look good against TCU. They have nobody of note back here.
Other DE Jan Jorgensen, there isn't a lot of hype here. Even Jorgensen disappointed last year, gaining only 5 sacks after a 13.5 sack campaign in 2007. The team as a whole managed a meager 22 sacks, and their D-line was responsible for only 9.5 of those. They lost a starting defensive tackle and end, with the end Ian Dulan going on his two-year mission.
4. Key losses at WR
They will be okay at receiver, but it is worth noting they lost their leading receiver (and NCAA leading receiver) Austin Collie, as well as third leading receiver Michael Reed.
Why We Care
Well, despite the fact that defeating an undefeated Oklahoma would benefit Texas more, last year taught us that unless we know that an OU win directly and unquestionably benefits Texas, it's just better for us to cheer for them to lose. Why not? OU sucks.
In short: Not high.
Oklahoma's humiliating loss to Boise State was delightful. However, this Oklahoma team is far superior to that year's team, and BYU is likely not as good as that Boise State team. BYU has a shot, but these things are going to have to happen for them:
1. Pressure Sam Bradford
Duh. Unfortunately, it doesn't look easy. OU is replacing almost their entire line, but BYU's line was a disappointment last year, and this year it looks even weaker. Their hope lies in Jorgensen, who MUST be able to beat Trent Williams. Good luck. If they can't get to Bradford, he's going to get to shop around against an already unimpressive secondary. That is bad, bad news.
2. Keep the ball away from OU
Max Hall is a good QB, and BYU has some decent weapons. But they cannot afford to get into a shootout with Oklahoma. Hall is going to have to be opportunistic and efficient, and Unga needs to have a steady game on the ground. Again, this will be hard considering the strength of the Oklahoma defensive line. Because OU's secondary is the weakest part of the defense, they can take advantage of short and intermediate routes, but if so, Hall needs to get rid of the ball in a hurry because that OU D-line will be breathing down his neck.
If BYU loses the turnover battle, they're in for a butt-kicking. Enough said. Note that it is possible to still get whipped even if they win the turnover battle, but losing it will pretty much eliminate their chances to win in the first place.
4. Stop the run.
OU's run offense was often a little erratic last season. If they can counter Oklahoma's run game featuring Brown and Murray, it will go a long way in helping their pass rush as well. If Oklahoma can run the ball effectively, it just makes Bradford that much harder to defend.
5. Hope Brent Venables does something stupid.
They have a good TE. Maybe he can tear up the OU defense like Shipley did in the TE slot, although he is obviously not nearly as quick and fast as Shipley. And maybe Venables will do nothing to counter.
6. Good ol' fashion luck.
The bounces need to go BYU's way, OU needs to have some brainfarts, and maybe even the calls need to go their way.
Personally, while I would be highly amused at an OU loss, I am not expecting it at all. In fact, I would be slightly surprised if BYU even hung around for very long. Their pass rush looks meager, their secondary looks weak, and their offensive line is green. That's about as bad a recipe as you can have against a team like Oklahoma. They have the offensive talent to move the ball, but they surely can't keep up with an OU offense if it is running smoothly.
I'd be happy if the Cougars prove me wrong, but I'm not that optimistic. Maybe some of you will be more so than me. I'm picking Oklahoma in a comfortable win.