Oklahoma football: Previewing the 2017 opener against UTEP

NEW ORLEANS, LA - JANUARY 02: Baker Mayfield
NEW ORLEANS, LA - JANUARY 02: Baker Mayfield /

A new era of Oklahoma football kicks off on Saturday as the Sooners host the University of Texas-El Paso in the season and home opener of the 2017 college campaign.

The more things change in Sooner football, the more they stay the same. Where I have I seen that expression before? Enter the new Lincoln Riley coaching era, with the former OU offensive coordinator taking over for Bob Stoops, who announced his retirement in early June after 18 seasons leading the program.

It’s the 33-year-old Riley’s ball game now, and Stoops says it’s his former offensive coordinator’s time in the sun. “Lincoln knows what to do. He’s ready for it,” Stoops said.

Saturday may be Riley’s first game as a head coach, but it will be the 111th consecutive sellout at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium, the renovated version of which can be aptly described as the “House that Bob built.”

The Sooners are 3-0 all-time against the Miners of UTEP and 20-0 against teams from Conference USA. The last meeting between these two schools was in 2012 in El Paso, with OU coming out on top 24-7. The two meetings prior to 2012 (both in Norman) were more lopsided, with the Sooners winning (in 2000 and 2002) by the combined score of 123-14.

The Miners finished tied for last place in the West Division of that conference a year ago with a 2-6 league record and a 4-8 mark overall. Head coach Sean Kugler is in his fifth year at his alma mater.

UTEP is led offensively by junior quarterback Ryan Metz. Metz completed 65 percent of his pass attempts last season, throwing for 1,375 yards and 14 touchdowns. The Miners’ offensive production was fairly balanced last season, averaging 368 yards of total offense, which was remarkably evenly distributed between running the football and passing it. They may lean more to the passing game in 2017, having lost the program’s all-time leading rusher, Aaron Jones, who rushed for over 1,700 yards a year ago.

Oklahoma Sooners Football
Oklahoma Sooners Football /

Oklahoma Sooners Football

Oklahoma is riding a nation-best 10-game winning streak entering the season opener with UTEP. The last OU loss was to Ohio State last September. The Sooners are 93-23-6 all-time in season-opening games and 75-15-4 in home openers at what is now Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium.

Three key factors in the game

  • The Sooners lost three key weapons off of the nation’s second best offensive team in 2016, but they are still loaded with talent on that side of the ball, including having what many believe to be the best offensive line in college football. With and trigger man Baker Mayfield still in the saddle, UTEP is going to have its hands full getting the still-potent OU offense off the field. The Miners ranked 70th in the country last season in total defense and 96th in defending against the run.
  • Oklahoma is going to put up plenty of points in this game. If the UTEP defense can’t slow down the Sooners on offense and the Miners’ offense can’t keep this game close in the first 20 minutes of the game, you can write this one off at halftime.
  • One mitigating factor for visiting UTEP is that the Sooners could get caught looking past the Miners and ahead to next week’s headliner at Ohio State. Even if this were the case, Oklahoma is way too good for UTEP to be able to pull off what would be a monumental upset.

Predicted outcome

Baker Mayfield and the Oklahoma offense will start off strong on both sides of the ball and put the game away early in what will serve as a nice audition for a new group of running backs vying for playing time and a handful of new faces and hands in the Sooner receiving corps. Oklahoma wins this one going away.

Oklahoma 56, UTEP 10