By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)
For a Week 3 college football game, there’s a lot on the line for Oklahoma and Florida State. Top five matchups are rare in the non-conference portion of any team’s schedule, so this is a chance to make a big statement. Both teams are national title contenders, but a loss in this game could be a significant setback for those hopes.
Oklahoma easily handled Florida State last year, winning 47-17 in Norman. However, the scene has shifted to Tallahassee. The Seminoles are hungry to avenge last season’s defeat, while prove Florida State is back on the national scene and a title contender.
Neither team has been tested so far. Oklahoma was off last week, but routed Tulsa 47-14 in the opener.
Florida State beat UL Monroe 34-0 in Week 1, while easily taking care of Charleston Southern 62-10 last Saturday.
Although both teams have looked good against inferior competition, this matchup will provide a better gauge of where they stand before conference play begins.
When Florida State Has the Ball
Florida State quarterback EJ Manuel has eight starts under his belt, but this is arguably his most important one. Manuel has thrown for 581 yards and six touchdowns this year. The junior has only rushed 10 times for 30 yards this season, but that could be one area Florida State looks to use him more on Saturday night.
Although Manuel may be used more in the running game, Florida State still needs to establish a traditional rushing attack. The Seminoles have a plethora of talented backs, with junior Chris Thompson expected to draw the start. However, senior Ty Jones and freshmen Devonta Freeman and James Wilder Jr. will also see snaps.
Just like the running backs, the Seminoles are stocked with talented receivers. Willie Haulstead is not expected to play due to concussion-like symptoms, but senior Bert Reed and junior Rodney Smith are capable starters. Youngsters Jarred Haggins, Greg Dent, Kenny Shaw and Rashad Greene will also be counted upon heavily to produce.
The one concern for the Seminoles is the offensive line. Two new starters were stepping into the lineup this season, after guard Rodney Hudson and center Ryan McMahon finished their eligibility. The line did not have a great spring and a few spots could be shuffled before this game. Considering the competition through two weeks, it's impossible to know how far along this group has come.
Oklahoma’s defensive line should be in a good position to take advantage of the Seminoles’ uncertainty up front. Ronnell Lewis and Frank Alexander are two of the best ends in the Big 12. However, the interior is a concern for the Sooners, as Jamarkus McFarland and Casey Walker have yet to have a breakout season.
Keep a close watch on the Sooner linebacking corps. Senior Travis Lewis will miss this game due to a foot injury, which means sophomores Tony Jefferson, Tom Wort and Corey Nelson will have to step up in a hostile environment. Lewis was one of the Big 12’s top defenders and his on-field leadership will be missed.
If Alexander and Lewis spend most of the night in the Florida State backfield, the Sooners should win this game. However, if Oklahoma’s defensive line struggles to get pressure, Manuel and the Seminole receivers should have a huge performance.
When Oklahoma Has the Ball
The Sooners own one of the nation’s most high-powered offenses, led by quarterback Landry Jones. He threw for 4,718 yards and 38 scores last season, while earning second-team All-Big 12 honors. Jones ripped apart the Florida State secondary for 380 yards and four scores last year.
Receivers Ryan Broyles and Kenny Stills anchor one of the top receiving corps in college football. Broyles led all receivers with 130 receptions last year, while Stills is one of the rising stars in the game. Joining those two as weapons will be tight end James Hanna and receivers Trey Franks and Dejuan Miller.
The Sooners are using a running back by committee approach, but there’s no shortage of options. Brennan Clay will likely draw the start, but walk-on Dominique Whaley has been impressive and should see his share of carries. Sophomore Roy Finch will also figure into the rotation as a change of pace threat.
Similar to the Florida State offense, Oklahoma’s biggest question mark rests with the offensive line. Right tackle Daryl Williams is expected to play with a high ankle sprain, but will be less than 100 percent.
The Seminoles possess a deep defensive line, led by junior Brandon Jenkins. It will be important for the line, especially Jenkins and Bjoern Werner, to get after Jones and disrupt the timing to Broyles and Stills. The Sooners like to use a lot of quick passes to Broyles, so disrupting that timing will be critical.
Florida State’s secondary has plenty to prove this year, especially after struggling against Oklahoma last season. Corners Mike Harris, Xavier Rhodes and Greg Reid are solid, but need to be much better than they were in last season's matchup. If the Seminoles are able to get pressure on Jones, the secondary will find their job much easier.
When a game is expected to be close, an x-factor could be what happens on special teams.
The Seminoles have one of the nation’s best at kicker (Dustin Hopkins) and punter (Shawn Powell). Hopkins has a strong leg and will become a valuable weapon once Florida State crosses midfield.
The Sooners would be wise to avoid kicking to Greg Reid, one of the nation’s most electric punt returners. Reid is averaging 17.8 yards per punt return this season.
Field goals could be a question mark for Oklahoma, as kicker Jimmy Stevens has been inconsistent during his career. However, returns should be in good shape with Broyles, Clay and Franks getting most of the work.
If you only watch one game this weekend, make sure this is it. Both teams are national title contenders and are deserving of its current ranking.
This is a huge chance for Florida State to announce its place on the national stage once again. After taking a step back during Bobby Bowden’s final years, Jimbo Fisher has the Seminoles back into title contention.
Both teams possess high-powered offenses, but this game will be won or lost in the trenches. If the Sooners can hold off Florida State’s pass rush, Landry Jones and Ryan Broyles will have another big game, while leading Oklahoma to a key non-conference win.
Prediction: Oklahoma 31, Florida State 27
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