Oklahoma football 2017 kickoff preview: Part I

NEW ORLEANS, LA - JANUARY 02: Baker Mayfield
NEW ORLEANS, LA - JANUARY 02: Baker Mayfield /
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BERKELEY, CA – SEPTEMBER 17: Quarterback Shane Buechele
BERKELEY, CA – SEPTEMBER 17: Quarterback Shane Buechele /

October 14 – Clash of the Rookie Coaches

This season’s Red River Showdown will have quite a unique twist: For the first time since 1947, both teams will be led by coaches making their debuts in the Cotton Bowl. Yes, it’s been 70 years since this circumstance has happened, so who knows, a solar eclipse might darken the Cotton Bowl mid-game.

Sooner fans will surely feel sadness at Bob Stoops’ absence from the Cotton Bowl sidelines after 18 seasons. Longhorn fans won’t be quite so sad to see that Charlie Strong is no longer pacing the Longhorn sideline.

Regardless of the prior history, both fan bases will be excited to see what their new coaches can do during one of college football’s most venerated rivalry games. The atmosphere will be electric in this one.

Offensively, the Longhorns are led by one of the game’s most exciting quarterbacks, Shane Buechele, who turned in a nice debut campaign: The young gunslinger passed for 2,958 yards, 21 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. Against the Sooners, Buechele passed for 245 yards, three scores and one interception, so not a bad game considering he was just a freshman playing on one of college football’s biggest stages.

Buechele will only get better as he continues to learn the Longhorn offense over the summer, so Mike Stoops’ defense will have to pressure the young quarterback and force him into mistakes. That means generating a pass rush and causing Buechele to rush his throws. If Buechele is able to get into a groove and pick the Sooner secondary apart, it might be a long day for the Crimson and Cream.

The Sooner offense needs to get going early: That means the offensive line must give Baker Mayfield time to carve up the Longhorn secondary and also open running lanes for the young Sooner backfield. If the Oklahoma offensive line can control the line of scrimmage, Lincoln Riley will be able to dial up long, methodical drives that eat clock and keep the Longhorn offense on the bench. And above all else, the Sooners must prevent star inside linebacker Malik Jefferson from wreaking havoc.

All this said, this will prove to be one of the toughest games in Oklahoma’s schedule and one they must win if they wish to capture the Big 12 and remain on the road toward one of the four spots in the College Football Playoff. No pressure.

Prediction: Sooners 35, Longhorns 31