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UTEP vs. Oklahoma Football Prediction and Preview

A new era in Oklahoma Sooners football begins on Saturday afternoon when Brent Venables makes his debut as OU head coach against the UTEP Miners. Following Lincoln Riley's shocking departure for USC in November, Venables returned to Norman to take over a storied program where he served as defensive coordinator from 1999 to 2011. Fixing a beleaguered defense is just part of the challenge now facing the former Clemson assistant as the Sooners look to rebuild a roster that saw defections on both sides of the ball in the offseason.

Related: College Football Predictions for Every Game in Week 1

OU's opponent already has one game in the books. UTEP (0-1) hosted Conference USA rival North Texas in Week 0 of the 2022 college football season, and the home crowd at the Sun Bowl went home disappointed. The Mean Green turned a 14-13 halftime lead into a 31-13 bloodbath by cashing in on a handful of errors by the Miners in the second half.

A moral victory may be the best UTEP can hope for this weekend, with the Sooners laying 31.5 points in their season opener. Here's what to watch as the action unfolds at Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium this weekend.

UTEP at No. 9 Oklahoma

Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 3 at 3:30 p.m. ET
TV: FOX
Live Stream: fuboTV (Start your free trial)
Spread: Oklahoma -30

When UTEP Has the Ball

When the Miners weren't running the ball last season, they were chucking it deep. UTEP completed just 54.3 percent of its passes in 2021, but the squad generated a healthy average of 8.9 yards every time the Miners put the ball in the air.

The loss to North Texas last week brought more of the same from head coach Dana Dimel's team. UTEP quarterback Gavin Hardison completed 21 of his 48 throws for 293 yards and a touchdown, while receiver Tyrin Smith averaged 18.1 yards on seven receptions and fellow wideout Reynaldo Flores snagged eight balls for 122 yards.

The UTEP aerial attack will test an Oklahoma defense seeing its first live action since Venables took over. Venables and defensive coordinator Ted Roof have to ensure they have a secondary filled with new faces ready for what the Miners throw at them. Meanwhile, the Sooners are looking for pass rushers to emerge now that Isaiah Thomas and Nik Bonitto are in the NFL.

When Oklahoma Has the Ball

New quarterback Dillon Gabriel has big shoes to fill. The transfer from UCF takes over for Caleb Williams, who dazzled in his freshman season last year before following Riley to USC. Fortunately for Gabriel, he has a firm grasp of offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby's scheme from their days together with the Knights.

Gabriel also should benefit from playing behind an offensive line that returns three starters from a year ago in center Andrew Raym, guard Chris Murray, and tackle Anton Harrison. OU added veteran McKade Mettauer through the transfer portal from California to help solidify the interior. Also count on Gabriel to find star receiver Marvin Mims early and often as the Sooners stack up plays in Lebby's up-tempo offense.

The UTEP defense is probably working on shoring up its efforts against the run this week in practice. North Texas chewed up four yards per carry against the Miners last Saturday. The Sooners' new run-first offense will pose an even stronger test than what UTEP saw from the Mean Green.

Final Analysis

Based on how the Miners performed in their season debut, they have little hope of springing an upset on Saturday. But how do you account for the potential nerves on the Oklahoma sideline in Venables' first game as head coach? UTEP may land a few blows early as the OU offense gets warmed up. Once the Sooners get rolling, however, a charged atmosphere in front of the home crowd should help propel them to win number one for Venables in easy fashion.

Prediction: Oklahoma 42, UTEP 10

Podcast: Week 1 Preview and Predictions + Betting and Picks Against the Spread

— Written by Allen Kenney, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Kenney is the founder and editor of BlatantHomerism.com and host of the Blatant Homerism Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @BlatantHomerism.