OU, West Virginia feel good about openers; rest of Big 12, not so much

Sept 04, 2018
Offensive lineman Bobby Evans #71 and wide receiver Lee Morris #84 of the Oklahoma Sooners celebrate a touchdown against the Florida Atlantic Owls at Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium on September 1, 2018 in Norman, Oklahoma. (Photo by Brett Deering/Getty Images)

Oklahoma has won three straight Big 12 football championships. Anyone want to bet against a fourth?

Opening week revealed the top three teams in the preseason conference poll — OU, West Virginia and TCU — looked pretty stout, although in fairness the Horned Frogs dined on a cupcake. The rest of the league was mostly mediocre. Or worse.

The Sooners’ 63-14 dismantling of Florida Atlantic, an 11-game winner last year expected to push the Top 25 this year, was stunning. Maybe FAU won’t turn out to be any good, but sixth-ranked Oklahoma was scary good.

Kyler Murray was sharp, averaging 19 yards per completion. Rodney Anderson averaged 20 yards per carry and the team 8.1 yards per pop. Marquise Brown looked like a No. 1 wideout. The defense held Doak Walker watchlist candidate Devin Singletary to a 3.8 average.

“All three sides surging together, that doesn’t happen often early in the season,” coach Lincoln Riley said. “Kyler played within himself, didn’t try to do too much. His decision-making was really good.”

Presumably Murray will face some heat when UCLA comes to Norman this Saturday. Then again, Chip Kelly’s Bruins lost their home opener to Cincinnati. The Sooners are a 30-point favorite, which might have seemed absurd a week ago.

Riley, perhaps worried about overconfidence, started nit-picking the FAU game.

“There are a million things you could go back on,” he said. “Not smart penalties, a couple busted assignments, a substitution error on a field goal. Guys trying to do too much or not trusting their job. It was nothing close to perfect.”

No. 17 West Virginia’s 40-14 destruction of Tennessee wasn’t quite perfect, either. But it was almost heaven. Besides Will Grier lighting up the Vols for 429 yards, five touchdowns and zero picks, the Mountaineers rebuilt defense — long their Achilles heel — was, dare we say, dominant. It stifled the Vols’ ground game with 3.4 yards per carry and limited the passing to 6.9 yards per play.

“Our defensive line was very disruptive. We had 12 tackles for loss,” said coach Dana Holgorsen, whose team should obliterate Youngstown State this week. “We have seven or eight guys we rotated in there, something we haven’t been able to do the entire time I’ve been here.

“It’s hard to find good, quality D-linemen. But it’s appealing to have a 260- or 270-pound guy in there as opposed to a 190-pound guy.”

Senior graduate transfers Kenny Bigelow from USC and Jabril Robinson from Clemson consistently stuffed Tennessee’s run.

No. 16 TCU, voted third in the preseason Big 12 poll, cannot be considered a contender simply off a 55-7 beatdown of Southern, but early indications were good for new starting QB Shawn Robinson (17 of 24, three TDs, no INTs), a rebuilt offensive line and a defense that held the Jaguars to 185 total yards.

“We played 79 or 80 guys, so it allowed us to start establishing our depth,” said coach Gary Patterson, whose team will get a better test Friday night at SMU. Running back Emari Demercado, a California JUCO transfer, showed enough speed and moves that he could make a nice complement to Darius Anderson and Sewo Olonilua.

Oklahoma State was the only other plausible Big 12 contender that played well, smoking FCS lightweight Missouri State 58-17.

The Cowboys had two 100-yard running backs, and Taylor Cornelius had excellent stats (24 of 34 for 295 yards, five TDs) in his first start, yet Coach Mike Gundy said the senior was “very average.”

“He reminded me of a pitcher in youth baseball just trying to throw strikes,” Gundy said. “He was trying to lay it in there rather than really zing it. He made good decisions but missed about four throws. I think he was a little nervous. In our offense, the QB is gonna have to take a lot of risks, be very aggressive. I’d like to see Taylor do that.”

Still, those four teams can feel good about being 1-0. Kansas State, which barely edged South Dakota, cannot.

Texas, Texas Tech and Kansas each lost and looked ugly doing it.

“The sun comes up tomorrow,” KU coach David Beaty said. “It was only week one.”