Oklahoma and Akron open the season in Norman this weekend in a contest that looks to be a lopsided affair. Vegas has installed OU as a 31-point favorite over what appears to be an overmatched bunch of Zips.
The Sooners are still feeling the sting of last year’s meltdown, which ended in a 40-6 spanking from Clemson in the Russell Athletic Bowl. That led to a major shakeup in Bob Stoops’ coaching staff and brought about yet another change in OU’s offensive scheme. Entering his 17th season as head coach of the Sooners, Stoops may be looking to start one last run before stepping down at some point in the next few years.
Meanwhile, this will be the first visit to Norman for Akron’s veteran coach Terry Bowden. His first three years with the Zips have yet to produce a bowl berth, but Akron should be knocking on the door of the postseason in 2015. As unlikely as a win may be here, it will give Bowden and his staff a chance to evaluate a slew of new starters at receiver and defensive back before the Zips take on Pittsburgh in a winnable game in week two.
Akron at Oklahoma
Kickoff: 7 p.m. ET (Saturday)
TV Channel: Pay-Per-View
Spread: Oklahoma -31
Three Things to Watch
1. Lincoln Riley’s Offense
Meet OU’s new boss on offense, same as the old boss. Riley may be new to Norman, but his offensive scheme is awfully familiar. After letting go of both offensive coordinator Josh Heupel and the Pistol offense earlier this year, Bob Stoops decided to return to the Air Raid, the pass-happy system that helped him get his fast start at OU. Stoops couldn’t bring back Mike Leach, so he settled on Leach’s protégé Riley as the offensive guru to get the Sooners back on track. After spending four years as East Carolina’s coordinator, Riley has never had such an abundance of weapons at his disposal. He might be as excited as Sooner fans to finally see what he can do with them.
2. Joe Mixon’s Role
Mixon might be the most explosive weapon in Riley’s arsenal. Sooner fans will get their first glimpse of OU’s ballyhooed freshman running back on Saturday after Mixon was separated from the team last year. Based on the scuttlebutt coming out of preseason camp, the California phenom won’t disappoint. Mixon possesses the ideal skill set for a running back in the Air Raid, although there’s no guarantee he will only line up in the backfield this year. Look for Riley to put him on the field together with fellow stud running back Samaje Perine and occasionally shift Mixon out to slot receiver to give defenses one more thing to think about.
3. The Defensive Scheme
Once again, the OU coaching staff opted to tinker with the Sooners’ defensive scheme, mixing in some 4-2-5 to go with their base 3-4 alignment. Akron should offer an early litmus test to see if the tweaks have done anything to help OU’s pass defense. The Zips run a fairly conventional version of the spread featuring a lot of four-wide sets, so the defensive backs should have a chance to show off what they’ve learned under new secondary coach Kerry Cooks. After relying heavily on loose coverage schemes last season, keep an eye on just how tight OU’s DBs line up against Akron’s wideouts.
It’s difficult to find any way that this game becomes something other than a dress rehearsal for OU and a nice payday for the visitors. Everyone at Owen Field on Saturday night will want to wash the bad taste from last season out of their mouths, from the players to the fans. Even in the event of a blowout, don’t be surprised if OU quarterback Baker Mayfield and the rest of the first-string offense see extended action in an effort to get comfortable with their new offensive scheme. Just don’t expect Riley to dig too deep into the playbook.
Given Akron’s propensity to turn the ball over—the Zips finished 101st nationally a year ago with 26 giveaways in just 12 games—the Sooners could get a defensive score to add a little cushion to the final margin of victory.
Prediction: Oklahoma 44, Akron 13
— Written by Allen Kenney, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Kenney is founder and editor of BlatantHomerism.com and host of the Blatant Homerism Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @BlatantHomerism.