By Michael Kinney
The first weekend of the college football schedule kicks off with a avalanche of top-shelf games. Several contests feature both teams ranked in the top 20, to make this one of the most exciting opening weekends in recent history.
Many credit the College Football Playoffs as the impetus for creating such early season matchups.
However, for Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops, this is nothing new. He has often stated that the Sooners have schedule top competition since he arrived in Norman.
That is the case once again as the third-ranked Sooners will take on No. 15 Houston Saturday at the NGR Stadium, where the hashtag #Htowntakeover originated.
“It’s all I’ve been thinking about,” Jordan Evans said. “Been looking forward to it since last year. I was talking today and said we play Saturday. There is no more waiting. It’s actually here. I’m very excited just looking forward to it. I’m sure it’s going to be very loud and energetic. Houston fans and Oklahoma fans that travel will make it a good atmosphere. It makes it more fun for me to play in and hopefully another good memory I’ll have.”
But Stoops does admit, playing a Cougars squad that captured the nation’s attention and hearts last year does give his team a little pep in its step.
“You can tell there is probably more of a sense of urgency,” Stoops said. “I think our guys are always excited to start the season. Anxious to get out there for the first time.”
The game will kick off at 11 a.m., a prospect Stoops has had issues with in the past. But it doesn’t seem to bother the Sooners as they fight their way back to the CFP Final Four for the second consecutive year.
“I’m Very excited,” senior Ahmad Thomas said. “I am always excited to go out and play a game at Oklahoma.”
Houston is the first of three top-25 teams Oklahoma will face in its first four games. But they may also be the most dangerous because they have the least to lose and the most to prove.
Houston is still trying to make an impression on the Big 12 to prove they deserve a seat at the conferences table. A win over the prohibited favorite to win the Bog 12 title would go a long away.
The Cougars enter the game with one of the most dynamic players in the country. Quarterback Greg Ward Jr. only started playing the position a month into last season. But since then he has elevated his stature among coaches who are now tasked with trying to stop the elusive signal caller.
Ward finished last season with 21 rushing touchdowns, 17 passing TDs and a combined 3,936 yards.
“You don’t have a lot of quarterbacks that you’re going to see that have his type of potential to move around in the pocket like that,” Steven Parker said of Ward. “To move in general. There’s going to be a lot of QB run game. A lot of extra time in the pocket, trying to get him bottled up. That’s something different we haven’t seen in a while.
However, Oklahoma is one of the few teams in the country that can counter the magic of Ward. Baker Mayfield returns for his second year under center for the Sooners and looks to be even more impressive with a full offseason as the starter under his belt.
“Baker Mayfield’s doing great,” Stoops said. “Been a great leader. He’s so much more comfortable. Rightfully so. He’s been in the leadership position.”
Stoops also sees that Mayfield and Ward are comparable to what they do on the field and bring to their respective teams.
“It tells you they are talented guys,” Stoops said of Ward and Mayfield. “They’re smart guys. You can see that. Both give you trouble scrambling around with their legs. Just talented players is the No. 1 thing you can say about them both.”
Whether it was against a dangerous team like the Cougars or a DII cupcake, the Sooners just wanted to get back on the field and play.
“Personally, I’m very excited to be out there,” Parker said. “The wait is over. Finally. We finally get to play some football. Football season is here. I’m excited. The change is going to be great. Finally we are getting out there and getting to butt heads with a different team. It’s going to be great. It’s a big opening weekend. College football is here. It’s a very exciting atmosphere. It’s in Houston, so we already know it’s going to be a hostile crowd. It’s going to be sold out. Blood is going to be pumping. Let’s get it going.”