The Oklahoma Sooners have had two straight quarterbacks win the Heisman Trophy but have been unsuccessful in capturing the National Championship. Will one or both of those streaks continue this year.
Jalen Hurts takes over after Kyler Murray departed for the NFL, but the main emphasis is improving the defense from last season, something that ultimately cost them a title shot.
The first test of the season comes at home against a strong Houston team out of the American Athletic Conference. That league has been vastly improving and Houston is right in the middle of it with UCF. But can they give the Sooners a defeat in Norman or will Oklahoma get its revenge from a loss in 2016?
Oklahoma Sooners vs Houston Cougars
Sunday, September 1, 7:30 p.m. EST
OU Memorial Stadium, Norman, Oklahoma
*All odds and betting info courtesy of OddsShark and originally posted by Bookmaker
Spread: Oklahoma (-23 at -105)
The story of the offseason for the Sooners has been the transfer of quarterback Jalen Hurts from Alabama after he was dethroned as the starter by Tua Tagovailoa. Hurts threw for 2,000 yards in consecutive seasons and had 800 rushing yards during those same years.
His dual-threat talent features well in Oklahoma, and he’ll have quite the arsenal of skill players at his disposal. One of those is potential first-round draft pick CeeDee Lamb. With 1,158 yards and 11 touchdowns last season he put the nation on notice and is set to have an even better 2019 season.
On defense, another high draft pick in the making is linebacker Kenneth Murray. He ranked third in the nation with 155 tackles, 71 of them solo. He also burst through the line with 4.5 sacks and 12 tackles for a loss.
Replacing Ed Oliver on the defensive line is the biggest challenge for the Cougars. Replicating his 31.5 tackles for a loss and 8.5 sacks over the last 20 games will be even tougher. It might result in a completely different defensive look centered around senior linebacker Austin Robinson. He led the Cougars with 128 tackles last year.
On offense, D’Eriq King is set to make his mark at quarterback again this season but has a challenge of following up a near-3,000 yard season. His top target will be receiver Marquez Stevenson who caught nine touchdown passes from King a year ago. The duo will provide quite the test for first-year defensive coordinator Alex Grinch’s defense.
This game has all the makings of an offensive spectacle. Hurts is a dynamic quarterback and his rushing ability could rival the likes of Justin Fields at Ohio State. He is looking to prove his doubters wrong, especially south in Alabama.
The Houston defense had its struggles last year, finishing near the bottom in points allowed per game (37.2). Oklahoma didn’t do much better, finishing 101st in FBS allowing 33.3 points per game.
Pick: Oklahoma will come away victorious in a shootout, pulling away late after a close first half. Take the over and Houston (+23 at +115) against the spread. The 23-point margin is slightly large but it should still be a double-digit win for the Sooners.