Things to know about the third meeting between Oklahoma and Houston. The Sooners lead the series, 2-0.
WHAT'S AT STAKE
So, so much for Houston. A victory by the Cougars sets up coach Tom Herman's team to possibly make a push to become the first team outside the Power Five conferences to reach the College Football Playoff. It would also be a huge win for the American Athletic Conference as a whole and it could sting the Big 12 all season. Oklahoma has opportunities to rebound, but a loss would be a tough start for a team with national championship aspirations.
Oklahoma linebackers vs. Houston QB Greg Ward Jr.'s running. Ward ran for 1,108 yards and 21 touchdowns last season. He is elusive and fast, but undersized at 5-foot-11, 185 pounds. The Sooners are relying on some new starters and inexperienced players at linebacker such as Ogbonnia Okoronkwo and Tay Evans, who will need to hem in Ward.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Oklahoma: QB Baker Mayfield. The junior threw for 3,700 yards and 36 touchdowns, and ran for seven touchdowns last season. Mayfield finished fourth in the Heisman voting.
Houston: LB Steven Taylor. The Cougars lost some key players in the back seven, but Taylor is an all-over-the-field linebacker. He had 92 tackles, 10 sacks and two interceptions last season.
FACTS & FIGURES
Houston has its highest preseason ranking since 1991 and Oklahoma is the highest ranked team the Cougars have ever faced to start the season. The Cougars are the highest ranked opening opponent for Oklahoma since 1986, when the Sooners faced No. 4 UCLA. ... Houston has won five straight games against Power Five opponents, the longest streak in the nation for a team outside the Power Five. ... Mayfield gets a lot of attention, but Oklahoma might have the best running back duo in the country in Samaje Perine (1,349 yards last season) and Joe Mixon (753) ... Houston was plus-21 in turnover margin last year, second-best in the country. Oklahoma was plus-9.
Trying to follow in the footsteps of Ware, Houston's only Heisman Trophy winner, is Greg Ward Jr. He was one of two FBS quarterbacks to pass for more than 2,000 yards and run for more than 1,000 last season. He accounted for 38 touchdowns.
"The biggest thing he does is take advantage of blitzing teams or D-ends running up field. He's just going to step up and try to get down field or get a scramble drill going," Oklahoma cornerback Dakota Austin said.
Defending Big 12 champion and playoff semifinalist Oklahoma has its own Heisman contender quarterback in Baker Mayfield, who passed for 3,700 yards and 36 touchdowns last year and finished fourth in the Heisman voting.
"Both give you trouble scrambling around with their legs," Sooner coach Bob Stoops said of Mayfield and Ward. "Just talented players, I think, is the number one thing you can say about them both."
Both teams enter the season looking for new No. 1 receivers to emerge after the departures of Sterling Shepard from Oklahoma and Demarcus Ayers at Houston. Expect the Sooners to get tight end Mark Andrews more involved after he caught seven touchdowns as a redshirt freshman. Penn State transfer Geno Lewis steps into a starting role at wide receiver. The Cougars will be looking for some inexperienced players to emerge and Chance Allen, who had 56 catches and 752 yards last season, to take a bigger role.
Houston landed one of the best defensive line recruits in the country this year in Ed Oliver. The freshman is expected to make an immediate impact. With Oklahoma retooling at linebacker, freshman Caleb Kelly will likely see some time and Stoops said Mykel Jones will be part of the receiver rotation.
SEASON PREDICTIONS FROM BIG AL AND CAYDEN
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