Last Updated Aug 30, 2021, 13:57 PM
Houston at Oklahoma
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College Football Week 1 Sunday Night Preview
Houston Cougars at Oklahoma Sooners (ABC, 7:30 p.m. ET)
With no professional football hitting the airwaves on Sunday and Monday nights yet, that stage is set for the understudies in the collegiate game, and Sunday night's battle between Houston and Oklahoma should be a good one.
Both schools have some lofty expectations for the 2019 season, and how can you not begin with Oklahoma on that topic. The Sooners are looking for another playoff berth this year with Alabama transfer quarterback Jalen Hurts now under center. Head coach Lincoln Riley has produced the last two Heisman winners at that position for the Sooners, and neither of them had the collegiate football resume that Hurts has transferring into the program.
At the same time, Houston ushers in the Dana Holgorsen era in with this game, as even after departing the Big 12, Holgorsen's first game in his new gig is against a Big 12 school. Lincoln Riley's Sooners got the better of Holgorsen's West Virginia Mountaineers in each of the past two years (both years Riley's been at Oklahoma), by winning 59-31 at home in 2017, and then going into West Virginia last year and leaving with a 59-56 win.
Those results suggest that the scoreboard is going to get a workout in this game as well, with Oklahoma's laying the same number in this game against Holgorsen's new team as the spread closed at the last time they hosted Holgorsen and his old team back in 2017. Will this year's result be any different?
Betting Odds: Houston at Oklahoma (-23); Total 80
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While it is true that West Virginia/Oklahoma games between these two coaches were high-scoring shootouts, that doesn't necessarily mean it will happen for the third straight year. These two coaches aren't too keen on being great on defense so it could happen again, but sometimes the only constant is change, and I believe we see all the change that both programs are going through early this year, leads to a change in the result of this third straight Holgorsen/Riley battle.
In Oklahoma's case, it's the change of having Jalen Hurts and his championship pedigree under center. However, as good as Riley is at getting the most out of his QB's, all of that starts with accurate passing. That's something Hurts as undoubtedly worked on since arriving at Oklahoma, but it's also something that needed a lot of work. For all his championship experience from his time at Alabama, if he was a championship caliber thrower of the football, he would have never got benched in the championship game, losing his starting job for good.
Secondly, coming in after two straight Heisman QB's is never going to be easy, especially when both were 1st overall NFL draft picks, and Kyler Murray has a good enough arm to be a 1st round (Top 10) MLB draft pick as well. Hurts just isn't in that class as a passer at this level, and even with a full off-season of working on it, this Oklahoma offense is probably going to need a bit more time to marinate then most would expect. Remember, they lost weapons around the QB position as well to the next level.
On the other sideline we've got a Houston team that expects their former OC in Holgorsen to come back as the conquering hero 10 years later as the head coach. He's done quite well for himself since moving on from the Houston OC position in 2009, and his teams since then are always known for offense. The Cougars have been fine offensively for years, so bringing in another guy with Holgorsen's resume didn't make a whole lot of sense given the Cougars defensive concerns at times in 2018, but Holgorsen's past relationship with the school didn't hurt.
But what that effectively does for Game 1 here is force an already strong Houston offense to adjust/learn new plays, terminology etc just to try and stay a strong offense. That's a lot like forcing a square peg into a round hole, and while over time those square edges may round off and eventually fit snug a few weeks down the road, there is going to be a forced learning curve for the Cougars as well in 2019, one that isn't likely to live up to the lofty early season expectations.
So we've got a scenario where two offenses have gone through significant changes over the past six months are expected to come out of the gates at mid-season form simply because of the past results from games when these coaches did meet. So it's not like scoring points will be like pulling teeth out there, but to have a total at 80 right now is a bit too high for a season opener.
Not only will the change offensively for both teams bring some less then expected results in this game, as a -23 home favorite, you can't rule out the possibility of Oklahoma getting out to a big lead early in the 2nd half and then bleeding the clock away with the run after that. You could get a 52-24 type game that would likely live up to many expectations, but still be a full major score away from cashing an 'over' ticket in this game.
Pretty much everything has to go right in terms of a pace perspective to cash 'overs' in the 80's, and generally speaking you want an offense that's got a rhythm going in that spot. You definitely don't want two teams with either a new QB (who's known to struggle passing) or a new coach who's implemented his own system to a new bunch of guys playing their first game of the year.