No. 4 Oklahoma opens its season at home on Sunday night against high-scoring Houston. The Sooners, who made the College Football Playoff a season ago, will have a new but familiar face under center in former Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts. Houston has a top quarterback of its own in D’Eriq King, who is a dual-threat with the ball every time he has it.
Oklahoma is looking to rebound as well from losing a Heisman Trophy winner as it did last season when Kyler Murray stepped in for the departed Baker Mayfield and won the award himself. Now Hurts takes the starting job after losing it to Tua Tagovailoa at Alabama. He did go 26-2 in his two seasons as the starter for the Crimson Tide, and he played in 13 games a season ago as well.
The moneyline for this contest has the Houston Cougars +850 and the Oklahoma Sooners -1500. Oklahoma is favored by 23 points at home, and the over/under for the contest has been set at 79.5.
King was fantastic a season ago, accounting for 50 touchdowns (36 passing, 14 rushing) in leading Houston to an 8-3 record before missing the last two-plus games, both of which were Cougars losses. King could be even better this year under new coach Dana Holgorsen, who made West Virginia a high-powered passing offense in his eight seasons as head coach.
The biggest question for Houston will be finding some defense after the Cougars ranked 118th in the country in points allowed last season, as opponents averaged 37.2 points. Houston was also 126th in total defense, giving up 496.5 yards per contest. The Cougars have seven players back with starting experience, led by team interception leader in 2018, safety Gleson Sprewell.
Hurts won’t have to be a one-man show this season, as Oklahoma has a number of skill-position players back in the fold. Running backs Trey Sermon and Kennedy Brooks combined for 2,003 rushing yards and 25 touchdowns a season ago, giving the Sooners a balanced attack. Hurts also has a pair of playmakers to throw to in wide receiver CeeDee Lamb (65 catches, 1,158 yards, 11 TDs) and tight end Grant Calcaterra (26 catches, 396 yards, six TDs).
The Oklahoma defense had the same problem as the Cougars’ did last season, a lack of ability to shut down opposing offenses. The Sooners allowed 33.3 points per game in 2018, as well as 294 passing yards a game, which ranked 129th in the country. New defensive coordinator Alex Grinch comes from Ohio State to try to tighten things up on this side of the ball. Nine returning starters are back for Oklahoma, led by the team’s leading tackler, linebacker Kenneth Murray, and sophomore defensive end Ronnie Perkins (team-best 5.0 sacks).
Win But Not Cover
Oklahoma should have no problem putting points on the board against the Cougars. The biggest question from a betting standpoint is whether they’ll be able to keep Houston from doing the same. The Sooners should win the game, but I have a hard time seeing them changing into a defensive unit that can shut Houston down. I’m going with Houston to stay within the 23-point spread even if it doesn’t win the game.