When the Oklahoma Sooners and UCLA Bruins agreed to play a home-and-home series starting this year, they likely envisioned a marquee matchup that would have college football fans’ tongues wagging from Pasadena to Pittsburgh.
Instead, oddsmakers have installed OU as a massive favorite versus the Bruins, who dropped Chip Kelly’s debut as their head coach last week against Cincinnati.
For their part, the Sooners wiped the mat with the Florida Atlantic Owls, answering some of the questions lingering from the departure of Heisman Trophy winner Baker Mayfield. Through one game, Kyler Murray looks like a fairly capable replacement. Even more encouraging, OU’s defense looked far better than the klutzy unit on the field at the end of the 2017 season.
UCLA at Oklahoma
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 8 at 1 p.m. ET
Spread: OU -30.5
Three Things to Watch
1. UCLA’s QB situation
Graduate transfer Wilton Speight started behind center for the Bruins last week, but a back injury knocked him out of commission early in the game. That left UCLA’s offense in the hands of freshman Dorian Thompson-Robinson. What followed wasn’t pretty.
Speight’s status this week has yet to be determined, which is not what you want for a team that is essentially still in the process of installing its offense.
2. What to do about the Bruins’ offensive line?
One reason to sit Speight this week: UCLA looked awful up front against Cincinnati. Running backs rarely found open holes in the line, while both QBs faced a barrage of pressure when they tried to pass.
OU doesn’t have an all-world defensive line, but the Sooners can do enough damage at the line of scrimmage versus the Bruins to put a bruising on UCLA’s QB.
3. How will OU use its defensive personnel?
Supposedly, the Sooners were making a move to nickel personnel grouping as their base defense. They came out versus FAU in a standard 3-4 look and stayed in it for the majority of the time that the first-stringers were on the field. Was OU defensive coordinator Mike Stoops just trolling everyone in the offseason, or did the Owls’ offensive scheme force his hand?
College football teams often clean up many of their mistakes from week one in the second game of the season. After the debacle with the Bearcats, Chip Kelly should have UCLA looking much sharper when his team hits the field in Norman on Saturday.
Unfortunately for the Bruins, the Sooners had a week to right the wrongs on display in their opener, too. OU likely kept its playbooks fairly limited on both sides of the ball versus FAU, so don’t be surprised if Lincoln Riley also takes this opportunity to put some of the new wrinkles in his team’s offense on film.
Expect UCLA to continue its slow ascent back to respectability on Saturday by keeping the final margin within the spread.
Prediction: Oklahoma 38, UCLA 11
— 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.