No. 4 Oklahoma is 1-0 on the young season and remains on the immediate list of teams contending for a College Football Playoff berth. However, you’d never know that was the case following its 40-35 win over Tulane. in Week 1 Oklahoma was about as sluggish as any team could be scoring 40 points and the Green Wave had a legitimate chance to spring the upset in the final minutes.
Was this the usual Week 1 fog or did the Sooners drink the offseason Kool-Aid? It was probably a combination of both — plus, credit is absolutely due to Tulane and coach Willie Fritz. Given the disruptions and hardships caused by Hurricane Ida, the Green Wave had a remarkable game plan and executed well. But, college football is sometimes a survive-and-advance game. The Sooners can hit reset and try to play sharper against Western Carolina from the FCS.
Don’t expect this to be a particularly close game. If it is, that’ll say more about the Sooners and whatever concerns that program has moving forward. Instead, this will be more about showing up and playing sharper against an overmatched opponent. What do you need to know about Saturday’s matchup. Here are storylines to watch, along with picks from our team of experts.
Oklahoma vs. Western Carolina: Need to know
Spencer Rattler returns to form: The quarterback almost always gets most of the praise and blame. That certainly applies to Rattler. The Sooners starter was the preseason odds-on favorite to win the Heisman Trophy … but critics will look at his two interceptions against Tulane as a sign that he was overrated all along. It’s true that Rattler didn’t have his best game. He stared down his receivers and tried to do too much at times. There’s no denying Rattler’s a playmaker. He just has to trust his reads, settle down and let the game come to him. I expect he will.
The OU O-line must be sharper: For all the criticism Rattler receiver, the protection up front deserves the blame as well. They didn’t do a great job of protecting Rattler and the running game was hit-or-miss. The Sooners were unable to convert early turnovers into serious points in large part because it couldn’t move the ball consistently. O-line coach Bill Bedenbaugh routinely does a great job getting his big uglies ready to play. This group will have to be much sharper against an overmatched opponent before moving on to Nebraska.
WCU has a weapon: Wide receiver Raphael Williams is just a redshirt freshman, but he was arguably the best player on the field in Western Carolina’s 31-28 loss to Eastern Kentucky with eight catches for 122 yards. The speedster out of Florida is the type of weapon that Oklahoma’s defense will need to monitor. Tulane passed for nearly 300 yards in Week 1, so there’s still some vulnerability the Catamounts might be able to exploit.
Date: Saturday, Sept. 11 | Time: 7 p.m. ET
Location: Memorial Stadium — Norman, Oklahoma
TV PPV: DirecTV (787), AT&T U-verse (1636), locally in Oklahoma on Vyve (658) or Cox (505), locally in Arkansas and Kansas on Cox (505)
Live stream PPV: SoonerSports
Notes: The game is not available via Amazon Prime, ESPN+, Hulu, YouTube TV or other streaming providers.
Oklahoma vs. Western Carolina prediction, picks
These early-season tune-up games are almost always terrible bets when it comes to point spreads. Oklahoma is going to win this game by a substantial margin. The question is whether it takes its foot off the gas enough for the Catamounts to cover almost seven touchdowns. My read? Coach Lincoln Riley will be just angry enough with his team (and maybe with himself) after Week 1 to keep his starters in longer than he normally would. Prediction: Oklahoma (-46.5)