Game of the Week: Ohio State vs. Oklahoma
After what was heralded as arguably the most exciting opening weekend in college football history, buckle up and enjoy maybe an even better slate of games in Week 2.
Saturday night will feature four more top 25 matchups, including, most notably, a second top five clash in two weeks between the No. 5 Oklahoma Sooners and the No. 2 Ohio State Buckeyes.
Both teams entered the season as favorites to win the Big Ten and the Big 12, respectively, and are legitimate College Football Playoff contenders.
Urban Meyer’s Buckeyes come off a 49-21 victory on the road over Indiana last Thursday night, where they struggled to find a rhythm offensively early on, but then exploded out of the gates in the second half and never looked back.
Oklahoma, on the other hand, was unstoppable from start to finish in Lincoln Riley’s debut as the Sooners head coach, posting 676 yards of total offense in a 56-7 rout over UTEP.
This matchup will feature two of the best and most experienced quarterbacks in all of college football in J.T. Barrett and Baker Mayfield, who have both already led their respective teams to the national semifinals once in their college careers.
Mayfield set the FBS record last season in passing efficiency and showed last week that he’s on a mission to break that record again this season. The senior gunslinger played in just the first half but finished a remarkable 19-20 with 329 yards and 3 touchdowns (97.9 QBR.)
Mayfield will not generate the similar NFL buzz that other college quarterbacks will, but nobody in the country has been more productive than him the past two years. He is second to none when it comes to extending plays with his feet and making accurate throws to all levels of the field both inside the pocket and on the run.
Barrett, on the other hand, is looking for a bounce back year after regressing last season as a passer, but the addition of new offensive coordinator, Kevin Wilson, behind an improved offensive line could return Barrett back to Heisman contender level.
Outside the two quarterbacks, the most intriguing matchup will be the Oklahoma offensive line facing off against the Ohio State defensive line. The Sooners have by far the best offensive line in the Big 12 and maybe the country, led by All-American tackle Orlando Brown.
The Sooners have question marks at running back after having to replace two of the best in the nation from last season’s team in Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon. These concerns are somewhat alleviated by their elite offensive line.
It has also been well-documented that Ohio State’s D-line, loaded with NFL talent, might be the best that defensive coordinator, Greg Schiano has ever fielded. The unit that can control the line of scrimmage could go a long way in deciding the game’s outcome.
Ohio State also owns a tandem of talented running backs in redshirt sophomore Mike Weber, and true freshman J.K. Dobbins, who ran for 181 yards against Indiana.
The Buckeyes’ receiving corps, however, is probably their biggest question mark with Curtis Samuel departing for the NFL at the end of last season. Parris Campbell looks like he could emerge as Barrett’s go-to receiver, and Marcus Baugh is an excellent tight end, but this group needs to demonstrate more consistency.
The Ohio State offense will be challenged by Oklahoma’s strong secondary, but this unit suffered a major blow last week when it lost top cornerback, Jordan Parker, for the season.
On the other hand, Ohio State’s secondary may have their hands full with this lethal Oklahoma passing attack. Despite losing one of his top targets, Nick Basquine, for the year during training camp, Mayfield has a plethora of weapons to work with in tight end Mark Andrews and Jeffrey Mead, among others.
This new look Ohio State secondary has a lot of young talent, but they are replacing three first-round NFL Draft picks from last season. They have a chance to be an elite unit once again by the end of the season, but an inexperienced group against Baker Mayfield and company in just the second week of the season will be a significant challenge.
The difference in the game could be Ohio State’s dynamic ground attack. If there is one glaring weakness with Oklahoma, it’s their lack of elite talent and depth in the front seven compared to other high-profile programs around the country.
A trio of Barrett, Weber, and Dobbins creating big plays in the running game to set up opportunistic play action passes downfield, along with the fact that Ohio State is backed up by a raucous, 100,000-plus fan crowd at “the Shoe” in Columbus, means they’ll have the slight advantage on Saturday night.
In a high-scoring affair, Ohio State’s secondary will struggle a bit against the Oklahoma passing attack, but the elite Ohio State front seven will help to take some of the pressure off them and make one more stop than the Oklahoma defense to give the Buckeyes a narrow win and put them in great shape before heading into Big Ten play.
Prediction: Ohio State 38, Oklahoma 34
Will Desautelle is a sophomore majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.