Oklahoma football: What fans need to know about Sooners’ final Big 12 opener

CINCINNATI, OH - SEPTEMBER 25: Quarterback Zach Collaros #12 of the Cincinnati Bearcats looks to pass in front of pursuit from defensive end Frank Alexander #84 of the Oklahoma Sooners on September 25, 2010, at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Jackson Laizure/Getty Images)
CINCINNATI, OH - SEPTEMBER 25: Quarterback Zach Collaros #12 of the Cincinnati Bearcats looks to pass in front of pursuit from defensive end Frank Alexander #84 of the Oklahoma Sooners on September 25, 2010, at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Jackson Laizure/Getty Images) /

The No. 16 Oklahoma football Sooners head to the state of Ohio this weekend, one of three new states with teams that are new to the Big 12 in the 2023 season.

The 3-0 Sooners will go up against the Cincinnati Bearcats in an early kickoff at Nippert Stadium in Cincinnati. While it is the Sooners’ final conference opener as a member of the Big 12, it is also the Bearcats first conference game in their first season in the Big 12. It is also the first season for Cincinnati head coach Scott Satterfield.

Oklahoma is undefeated heading into Big 12 play, while Cincinnati comes into Saturday’s game with a 2-1 record, having defeated both Eastern Kentucky at home (66-13) and Pittsburgh on the road (27-21) but losing to Miami of Ohio at home in overtime (31-24).

The Week 4 matchup between the Sooners and Bearcats, only the third time the two teams have faced each other, features one of the best road teams in the country over the past nine seasons in Oklahoma against a Cincinnati team with one of the best home records since 2019.

815. FOX. Saturday, Sept. 23. 2-1. 830. 11 a.m.. No. 16, 3-0. Sooners -14.0

The Sooners are 31-7 (816) in true road games going back to the 2014 season, the fifth best road winning percentage in the country over that time span. Cincinnati, on the other hand, is 26-2 when playing at home since the 2019 season, one of those two losses coming this season.

OU is 2-0 against the Bearcats all-time, winning 52-26 at home in 2008 in Ryan Broyles’ freshman season at Oklahoma, and 31-29 on the road two years later.

This is Oklahoma’s final season in the Big 12 after a conference affiliation that goes back to 1919 through all the previous iterations of what is now the Big 12. The Sooners own a league-best 169-58 (.744) record in regular-season games since the Big 12 was formed in 1996.

Saturday’s game will be televised nationally by FOX, starting at 11 a.m. CT, with the network’s No. 1 announce crew of Gus Johnson, Joel Klatt and Jenny Taft. The OU-Cincinnati game will also be the site for the FOX Big Noon Kickoff show, beginning at 10 a.m.

What to know about Cincinnati

In his weekly press conference earlier in the week, Brent Venables described Cincinnati as “experienced, battle tested and (a team that) has played at a very high level for a long time.” He went on to say that “this will be a line of scrimmage game, on both sides of the ball. They have a three-headed monster on offense, and on defense they’ve had a high standard of success over the last several years.”

Cincinnati averages fewer points per game (39.0) than OU through three games, but the Bearcats’ offense has been just as prolific as the Sooners. Cincinnati averages 525 yards of offense per contest, which ranks 12th best in the country.

The Bearcats have been pretty solid defensively as well. They’ve recorded 10 sacks already and have limited the completion percentage of the opposing quarterbacks they’ve faced to just 45.5 percent.

The “three-headed monster” Venables referred to in describing the Cincinnati offense consists of quarterback Emory Jones, a transfer who has played for both Florida and Arizona State, running back Corey Kiner, who leads the Bearcats in rushing with 289 yards and averages 6.1 yards per carry, and wide receiver Xzavier Henderson, the ‘Cats leading receiver with 20 catches.

What to know about Oklahoma

The Sooners come into the game with Cincinnati ranked in the top five nationally in scoring offense (No. 3 at 55.7 points per game) and scoring defense (No. 5 allowing 9.3 points per game). OU ranks eighth in total offense (534.0 yards per game), fourth in turnover margin (+6) and first nationally in third down conversions, successful in 68.0 percent of its third-down attempts.

Quarterback Dillon Gabriel leads the nation in completion percentage (.825) and is second in passing efficiency (220.40). His 11 touchdown passes are tied for third among FBS quarterbacks.

The OU offensive line has protected Gabriel well, allowing only one sack this season. Gabriel’s passing accuracy is underscored by the fact he has only thrown one interception.

The Oklahoma defense has performed well through the first three games. The Sooners rank 32nd in total defense (287.7 yards per game) and 15th in rushing defense (78.7 yards per game). The Oklahoma defensive line will get a huge test this week, though, going up against Cincinnati’s lethal run game. The Bearcats rank No. 8 in the country, averaging 239.3 rushing yards per game.

For the Sooners to win this game, according to Venables, they must control the line of scrimmage, both on offense and defense.

Players to watch

Cincinnati quarterback Emory Jones is a dual threat-style quarterback, the kind that historically have given Oklahoma fits defensively. This will be the second time the Sooners have faced Jones. he was the backup to Kyle Trask when OU played Florida in the Cotton Bowl Classic in 2020. In that game, Jones completed 8 of 16 passes for 86 yards and also ran for 60 yards. Bearcat wide receiver Xzavier Henderson was also on that Florida team. Henderson’s 20 catches are tied for 17th nationally through three games.

Other than Dillon Gabriel, who will always be the offensive key for the Sooners, watch for Mr. Dependable, WR Drake Stoops, to be a key factor in keeping the chains moving and deep threat Andrel Anthony in taking the top off the Cincinnati defense. Sooner linebacker Danny Stutsman has been a tackling machine and big-time disruptive force on defense.

Striking Sooner stats

  • Since the start of the 2014 season, Oklahoma leads the nation, averaging 5.5 yards per rush along with 307 touchdowns. That ranks fifth-best nationally and second among Power Five teams.
  • The Sooners are outscoring their opponents 63-3 in the first quarter.


This will be the first real test for the Sooners this season and the first real measure of the level of OU’s improvement over the disappointing 2022 season. The eye test says this is a better Oklahoma team, but we won’t know that for certain until at least the midpoint of the current season. The Sooners have more talent that Cincinnati, but the Bearcats have plenty of experience at the skill positions. Sooners are a 13.5-point favorite. This will be a much closer game than some believe, but Oklahoma prevails in the end. Oklahoma 41, Cincinnati 30