OU football: Key matchup — Nov. 17 at West Virginia Mountaineers
It may be hard to believe, but the marquee matchup in the Big 12 this year won’t be between perennial powerhouses Oklahoma and Texas in the Cotton Bowl.
No doubt, the Red River Rivalry has its own mystique, but when one team is struggling to find its rhythm — this year’s Longhorns are still working on getting their offense back on track — the rivalry ends up stepping aside for other key matchups in the conference.
Welcome, West Virginia.
OU’s 48-28 loss in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl to the Mountaineers is enough to make any Sooner fan cringe at the announcement that West Virginia will now be on the annual schedule.
But if both teams are sitting at the top of the league standings — and there‘s a good possibility they will be — Morgantown, W.Va., will think Christmas has come early during the Nov. 17 de facto Big 12 championship matchup.
Sure, a lot of things can happen between the first game of the season and then, but both teams have momentum, promising offensive producers and coaches that make this a game not to be missed.
OU fizzled out during the last half of the season, finishing fourth in a quarterback-heavy Big 12 that saw a lot of firsts from teams not named Texas or Oklahoma.
Who guessed Baylor would produce the Heisman winner or that Oklahoma State would win a conference championship?
But the Sooners aren’t without talent, and now that the team doesn’t have the preseason No. 1 ranking to defend, OU has mental breathing room to make its way back to the top.
West Virginia is still riding the momentum from last season’s Orange Bowl victory that featured a Mountaineer team that manhandled Clemson, 70-33, courtesy of quarterback Geno Smith’s record-setting, six-touchdown performance.
If the win proved anything, it showed teams all over the country that West Virginia should never be overlooked on anyone’s schedule.
And hopefully the Big 12 teams received that memo.
What also elevates the status specifically on this game is the fact that defense may win ball games but fans have a love affair with offensive production.
Luckily for Big 12 fans, these two teams will be riding on the arms of their prospective Heisman candidate quarterbacks, OU’s Landry Jones and West Virginia’s Smith.
Even though the Sooners were mediocre in conference, Jones threw for more than 4,000 yards last season and finished with a 63.2 passing completion percentage. He will need to figure out which wide receiver will be his go-to guy this season following the departure of Ryan Broyles.
Smith also collected more than 4,000 yards passing last season, but he has an established wide receiver partner with senior Tavon Austin, who had more than 1,180 yards receiving last season.
However, perhaps the best argument for West Virginia’s induction as one of the league’s most potent teams is the fact that coach Dana Holgorsen is no stranger to the strategies of the Big 12.
Holgorsen returns to the league he spent nine years perfecting his coaching repertoire in, and now he’s bringing with him a team poised to be a top-10 contender.
As Texas Tech’s offensive coordinator, Holgorsen’s offenses were ranked No. 8 (2006) and No. 3 (2007) in the nation. At OSU (2010), Holgorsen turned a mediocre Cowboy offense into the top passing team in the country that averaged 537.6 yards per game. Overall, five OSU offensive records fell during Holgorsen’s single year in Stillwater.
If Holgorsen’s previous success in the Big 12 is a premonition of things to come, West Virginia is a solid fit in the newly reformed conference.
If there’s one Big 12 game to watch this year, it’s undoubtedly the OU-West Virginia game that already promises to be one of the most-anticipated games on the college football schedule.