Oklahoma at Houston
Saturday, 9 am PT - ABC
CRIS Opener: Oklahoma -10 O/U 66
CRIS Current: Oklahoma -11.5 O/U 68
My initial gut reaction here was to take a long, hard look at taking Houston plus the points. The Cougars were no joke last year, finishing the season 13-1 following a resounding win over Florida State in the Peach Bowl. Their lone loss came by a field goal on a cold, rainy November day at Connecticut when QB Greg Ward was sidelined for most of the game.
But after a thorough examination of the Houston defense, I think the Over is the superior play. Houston is capable of putting points on the scoreboard, even against a quality defense like Oklahoma’s. Head Coach Tom Hermann, who signed a contract extension to stay at Houston in the offseason, is the guy who designed an offense for third string QB Cardale Jones to hang 42 on Alabama and 42 more on Oregon when Ohio State pulled off back-to-back upsets to win the National Title back in 2014. Last year, he took an unknown, unheralded former wide receiver in Greg Ward, and turned him into the second team All-AAC quarterback, behind only NFL first rounder Paxton Lynch. Give Hermann time – like he had all summer – and he’ll design a gameplan worthy of a wager, especially given the strong skill position talent surrounding his senior quarterback.
But Houston’s stop unit is another story entirely. Their secondary is as green as it gets, after losing a pair of All-AAC safeties to graduation as well as NFL first rounder William Jackson at cornerback. Given the question marks surrounding their pass rush, the matchup of Oklahoma’s receiving corps against Houston’s inexperienced secondary is not a matchup that I trust to work in the Cougars favor.
Oklahoma was a good defensive team last year, not a great one – the better offenses they faced moved the ball fairly consistently against this stop unit. In the offseason, the Sooners lost NFL draft choices from all three defensive units, and their front seven, in particular, has some rebuilding to do.
But the Sooners offense is no joke, led by senior Heisman Trophy contender Baker Mayfield, who earned the Big XII Offensive Player of the Year award in 2015, throwing for 36 TDs and more than 3700 yards. RB Samaje Perine will be running behind an offensive line that started three freshmen last year; a unit primed to improve by leaps and bounds this year. And considering that Oklahoma averaged 43.5 points per game last year DESPITE that green offensive line, I’d be very surprised if they didn’t approach or exceed that average in their opener against the Cougs.