Back in 2012, Bob Stoops took Oklahoma to El Paso to start the season with a game against Mike Price’s UTEP Miners. In what should have been a rout, the Sooners slogged through a 24-7 win that wasn’t truly decided until the fourth quarter.
It will be Lincoln Riley and Sean Kugler on the sidelines this time around in the two teams’ first meeting in six years. If the badly overmatched Miners put another scare into the Sooners, it won’t instill much confidence in Stoops’ handpicked replacement.
On the other hand, Riley could announce his presence in style with a blowout victory.
UTEP at Oklahoma
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 2 at 3:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: FOX
Spread: Oklahoma -43
Three Things to Watch
1. UTEP’s offensive line vs. Oklahoma’s font four
Oklahoma will unveil its new four-man defensive front on Saturday, which moves edge rusher Ogbonnia Okoronkwo down to weak-side defensive end and shifts Neville Gallimore inside to defensive tackle. The Sooners won’t be able to bulldoze UTEP’s offensive line – it’s a solid unit for a mid-major team, including left guard Will Hernandez, a second-team AP All-American in 2016.
If the Miners can handle OU’s new-look front four, that’s a bad sign regarding what’s in store for the Sooners the following week against Ohio State.
2. OU’s replacement receivers
With 2016 Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year Dede Westbrook and do-everything running back Joe Mixon off to the NFL, the Sooners lost more than 2,000 receiving yards from a year ago. No single receiver on this season’s team looks ready to replace Westbrook’s 80 catches and 17 touchdowns on his own. The receiving corps does have a long line of talented wideouts who could still combine to cause all kinds of trouble for defensive backs.
Keep an eye out to see if quarterback Baker Mayfield pays particularly close attention to any receiver in particular.
3. Kicking game
Oklahoma plans for Austin Seibert to once again handle both kickoffs and placekicking, along with continuing to punt. As Seibert struggled with field goals in 2016, speculation grew that he was dealing with “dead leg” from all that work. Equally likely: He got the yips after missing a few kicks early in the season.
Whatever the case may be, the Miners should consider any possession a win if they force the Sooners into a field goal try. Seibert needs to show he’s back.
Frankly, this matchup is about as one-sided as you will find in the opening week of the 2017 season.
UTEP is fielding one of the worst squads in Conference USA. The Miners have few threats at the skill positions capable of challenging Oklahoma’s defense and forcing the Sooners to make tackles in space, a longstanding problem in Norman. UTEP’s offensive line might be able to open some holes in the running game for a bit, but ball carriers still won’t get far.
Lincoln Riley probably welcomes the opportunity to ease into his new job with a W. With Ohio State looming a week later, he will need to identify and work out any kinks quickly.
Maybe the Sooners will put on a show. More likely, OU will shut it down early and turn its attention to the Buckeyes.
Prediction: Oklahoma 49, UTEP 13
— 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.
(Lincoln Riley photo courtesy of www.soonersports.com)