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Oklahoma Sooners vs. West Virginia Mountaineers Prediction and Preview

Oklahoma Sooners vs. West Virginia Mountaineers Prediction and Preview

Oklahoma Sooners vs. West Virginia Mountaineers Prediction and Preview

Only a short time ago, Oklahoma and West Virginia seemed to be on a collision course to meet in the Big 12 Championship Game. That picture has completely changed now.

Texas has locked in one spot in the title game, assuming the Longhorns don't stumble this week against Kansas. Now the No. 6 Sooners and the No. 12 Mountaineers are battling for the other spot on Friday night. The winner will lock in a title game slot and earn a chance to clinch a New Year's Six Bowl berth or perhaps even a College Football Playoff spot.

Oklahoma (10-1, 7-1 Big 12) kept its one-game lead atop the Big 12 after outlasting Kansas 55-40 on Saturday. The Sooners scored at least 50 points for the fourth time in the last five games and the seventh time overall this season.

West Virginia (8-2, 6-2) fell out of the top 10 after suffering a 45-41 upset loss to Oklahoma State. The Cowboys rallied from a 17-point halftime deficit to get bowl eligible. The Mountaineers' offense was shut out in the third quarter and mustered a single fourth-quarter touchdown to open the door for the rally.

Oklahoma leads the series 8-2 and has beaten West Virginia six straight times. The Mountaineers haven't beaten the Sooners since joining the Big 12. Their last win over Oklahoma was a 48-28 triumph in the 2008 Fiesta Bowl.

Oklahoma at West Virginia

Kickoff: Friday, Nov. 23 at 8 p.m. ET


Spread: Oklahoma -3

Three Things to Watch

1. Kyler Murray vs. Will Grier

Two of the nation's best quarterbacks will be taking the field on Friday night. Both Kyler Murray and Will Grier are legitimate Heisman Trophy candidates who have made their respective offenses a threat to score on virtually any possession this season. Both are capable of piling up yards and points in a hurry.

Murray has made the transition from Baker Mayfield go smooth as butter for the Sooner offense. Oklahoma leads the nation in total offense with 576.1 yards per game and has an FBS-best 86 plays covering 20 or more yards from scrimmage. The Sooners also top the FBS in scoring offense with 49.5 points per game.

It all starts with Murray. The junior has thrown for 3,310 yards and 34 touchdowns while tossing only six interceptions. Murray has completed 70.3 percent of his passes this season, which ranks sixth in the nation and leads the Big 12. His 205.82 quarterback rating is second best among FBS players, trailing only Alabama sophomore Tua Tagovailoa.

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Grier is equally impressive with what he's done for West Virginia. The senior has totaled 3,325 yards and 33 touchdowns through the air for the Mountaineers. He has thrown only eight interceptions this season and is completing 67.2 percent of his passes.

With Grier at the controls, West Virginia has churned out 502.0 yards per game to rank 10th nationally in total offense. The Mountaineers are ninth among FBS teams in scoring, averaging 40.9 points per contest. Grier's quarterback rating is 174.19, which is good for third nationally behind Murray and Tagovailoa.

2. Can either defense get any stops?

Defense has become optional for both Oklahoma and West Virginia in November. Both teams are struggling to keep opponents out of the end zone as the regular season winds down.

The Sooners rank 87th nationally in total defense, allowing 425.8 yards per game. Many of the struggles can be traced to a porous pass defense that is allowing 263.6 yards per contest. It's grown worse in Big 12 play where Oklahoma is yielding 302 yards per game through the air against conference opponents. The Sooners have allowed 44.3 points per game in their last three contests, in part, because of their inability to get stops on passing downs. That's a recipe for disaster against Grier,

Of course, West Virginia needs to shore up a suddenly vulnerable defense for good things to happen. The Mountaineers have shown some serious cracks on that side of the ball over the last three weeks. They gave up 520 yards to Texas — including 354 yards through the air — and escaped with a one-point win. Oklahoma State ripped off 601 total yards against West Virginia. Taylor Cornelius set the tone for the Cowboys by throwing for 338 yards and five touchdowns. Cornelius added 134 yards and a touchdown on the ground. Murray is capable of putting up similar or better numbers.

3. Oklahoma's ground game vs. West Virginia's run defense

One of the more unheralded parts of the Sooners' offensive machine is their three-headed attack in the backfield. Trey Sermon, Kennedy Brooks, and Murray are all threats to make plays with their legs and all three are capable of gashing defenses for tons of rushing yardage.

Brooks, a true freshman, leads the team with 90.1 rushing yards per game. Sermon is next with 77.4 yards per contest. Murray is a fleet footed dual-threat QB, chipping in 67.2 yards per game on the ground. The trio rank in the Top 10 in the league in rushing yards per game and have combined for 31 rushing touchdowns on the season.

Their playmaking ability will be put to test against a stout West Virginia run defense. The Mountaineers rank second among Big 12 teams in rushing defense. They allow just 135.5 yards on the ground per contest. West Virginia has held four opponents under 100 rushing yards this season — although they did yield a season-high 266 rushing yards to Oklahoma State.

Final Analysis

Oklahoma has won 19 straight true road games, which is the longest such streak in the nation. West Virginia hasn't lost at home this season. Something has got to give in this clash of explosive offenses. The Sooners have been living on the edge in November with their porous pass defense. Facing one of the nation's top quarterbacks isn't a good solution to cure those woes. West Virginia can keep up on the scoreboard and has just enough on defense to deny Oklahoma a chance to repeat as Big 12 champs.

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Prediction: West Virginia 48, Oklahoma 45

— Written by John Coon, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Coon has more than a decade of experience covering sports for different publications and outlets, including The Associated Press, Salt Lake Tribune, ESPN, Deseret News, MaxPreps, Yahoo! Sports and many others. Follow him on Twitter @johncoonsports.