After a tumultuous offseason – one that saw a head coach and two quarterbacks depart – the Oklahoma Sooners are finally ready to play some football. First-year coach Brent Venables will welcome UTEP to Norman on Saturday, after the Miners dropped their Week 0 matchup against North Texas.
Let’s take a look at the odds and make some picks and predictions for Saturday’s Sooners season opener.
UTEP vs. Oklahoma Odds
Oklahoma enters as a massive favorite, as expected, at -10000 on the moneyline. The Sooners are 31.5-point favorites, with the over/under set at 56.5 points.
Oddsmakers are all in on Oklahoma, especially after UTEP disappointed in its season opener. The Miners were very narrow underdogs at +1.5 but fell apart in the second half in a loss highlighted by an inefficient running game.
UTEP vs. Oklahoma Prediction & Pick
My pick: UTEP +31.5 (-110)
This is still a largely unproven Oklahoma team. Led by a first-time head coach in Venables, the Sooners only had one player on the preseason All-Big 12 Team – punter Michael Turk. Between roster turnover from seniors graduating and outgoing/incoming transfers, I’m hesitant to say they go in and obliterate a UTEP team that already has a game under its belt.
There’s no doubt the Sooners are poised to win this one, but is this roster definitively better than the one that came up short in the Big 12 last season? Doubtful. It’s fair to wonder whether this game turns out more like Oklahoma’s 40-35 season-opening win over Tulane from last season or their 76-0 win over Western Carolina the very next week. Neither team was any good in 2021. Tulane finished 2-10, yet they gave Oklahoma a serious run in Norman.
As it turned out, the Sooners simply needed some time to get adjusted to the season. It’s safer to assume the same will be true this year, even with much different personnel. While it shouldn’t be as close as the Tulane scare, I think UTEP has enough in the tank to cover a +31.5 spread.
UTEP vs. Oklahoma Key Matchups
Check out the key matchups and mismatches for UTEP vs Oklahoma below.
Dillon Gabriel vs The UTEP Secondary
All eyes are on UCF transfer quarterback Dillon Gabriel, who originally committed to UCLA in December but pivoted to Oklahoma once it became clear Caleb Williams wouldn’t be returning. Gabriel won’t benefit from the high-flying Lincoln Riley offense of years’ past, with Riley now at USC, but he’s reuniting with former UCF offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby – also the coordinator behind Matt Corral’s Ole Miss offense from the last two seasons.
While losing Williams is a tough pill to swallow, there’s no reason to believe Gabriel can’t be one of the nation’s better quarterbacks this season. He threw for 3,570 yards, 32 touchdowns, and 4 interceptions in his last full season at UCF and now gets to throw to Marvin Mims, who could be poised for a breakout year.
The matchup with UTEP’s secondary is an ideal one for Gabriel and the Sooners’ passing game. North Texas’ Austin Aune threw for 236 yards and 3 touchdowns against the Miners last week, despite completing only 16 passes. Aune’s 14.8 yards per completion are a bad sign of what’s to come in a raucous environment.
Oklahoma Defense vs the UTEP Passing Attack
One of Oklahoma’s most impactful losses in the offseason was defensive coordinator Alex Grinch. While Brent Venables is a defensive-minded coach and authored some terrific defenses at Clemson, Grinch was the man responsible for instantly turning a program that used to be mocked for its lack of defense into a well-balanced one. Whether co-defensive coordinators Todd Bates and Jay Valai can replicate that success is a storyline to watch.
UTEP’s offense didn’t do anything against North Texas to inspire much confidence. Quarterback Gavin Hardison returned after throwing for nearly 3,000 yards last season, but he finished 21/48 for 293 yards and a touchdown in the loss. He has a career 53.4 completion percentage, so accuracy is an issue.
The running game was even more concerning. The Miners’ backfield averaged 3.6 yards/carry, led by Ronald Awatt’s 36 yards. Tyrin Smith is UTEP’s top receiving weapon after erupting for 127 yards and a touchdown in the season opener. Expect UTEP to throw the ball plenty as they try to play catch-up against the Sooners.
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