Spencer Rattler and Bobby Petrino make their debuts in the season opener for the Sooners and Bears
Initially set for Aug. 29, the Oklahoma Sooners and Missouri State Bears will finally take the field Saturday night in Norman. They may be starting two weeks later than expected, but that hasn't detracted from the anticipation surrounding either team in their season opener.
Missouri State fans will get their first look at the team under the leadership of rapscallion coach Bobby Petrino, who's back in the game after sitting out the 2019 season. For the Sooners, the big story is the debut of redshirt freshman Rattler as the team's starting quarterback. The hyped recruit may be the most talented passer Riley has had under his wing since OU's head coach joined the program in 2015.
Will that be enough to entice casual viewers to shell out $54.99 for the pay-per-view broadcast? Unfortunately, they probably won't see a competitive game if they do.
Missouri State at Oklahoma
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 12 at 7 p.m. ET
TV: SoonerSports.tv (PPV)
When Missouri State Has the Ball
Petrino has a well-deserved reputation as an offensive maestro, but the chaotic offseason hasn't given him much of an opportunity in the way of installation. Even if the Bears were well-schooled in their coach's schemes, they lack the personnel to put up many points in this matchup.
On the other side of the field, Oklahoma defensive coordinator Alex Grinch will get a look at some newcomers and familiar faces in the new places. The former include heralded defensive lineman Perrion Winfrey, a junior college transfer poised to replace Neville Gallimore at nose tackle, and redshirt junior defensive back Tre Norwood, who missed all of last season with a knee injury.
Meanwhile, sophomore David Ugwoegbu has transitioned to inside linebacker following a strong rookie year as an edge rusher. The coaches are counting on Ugwoegbu to replace the depth lost when fifth-year senior Caleb Kelly blew out his knee in preseason practice. His play versus Missouri State will serve as an early status report.
When Oklahoma Has the Ball
It's Rattler time. All eyes will be on Lincoln Riley's new prized pupil, and he shouldn't find much resistance from the Missouri State defense. Rattler's command of the huddle and comfort running the offense will likely tell the more important than the one he puts on the stat sheet.
Another youngster under the microscope: running back Seth McGowan. The freshman has built up major buzz during preseason practices. Even though T.J. Pledger will probably take the field with the first-team offense, expect new RB coach DeMarco Murray to give McGowan a decent amount of work, especially with senior Rhamondre Stevenson slated to miss the first half of the year.
Lastly, OU offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh has gushed about the depth of his unit in recent weeks. Upperclassmen such as center Creed Humphrey and guard Marquis Hayes are known quantities, but newcomers like Andrew Raym and Anton Harrison should also see action early and often.
This is a matchup between what is billed as one of the best teams on the FBS level and an FCS squad that went 1-10 a year ago. If the Sooners don't blow away the Bears, that's an ominous sign.
Oklahoma should do whatever it wants on the ground when it has the ball. Don't be surprised if Riley and Bedenbaugh experiment with different combinations on the offensive line in search of the group with the best chemistry. Riley also will give Rattler some chances to establish a rapport with newcomers at receiver, including UCLA transfer Theo Howard and freshman Marvin Mims.
Defensively, Grinch will likely try to keep things simple. It shouldn't take too long for OU's defensive linemen to work over the Bears in the trenches, which means the Sooners won't have much need to show off any exotic calls and personnel packages.
OU should be in a position to test its depth on both sides of the ball in the second half on Saturday night. In a season like this, Riley should take advantage of the opportunity.
Prediction: Oklahoma 52, Missouri State 7
— 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.