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West Virginia football opponents, Game 4: Alabama

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the seventh in a series of previews on West Virginia and Marshall football opponents.

n Date with WVU: Saturday, Sept. 20, time TBA

n Site: Mountaineer Field (60,000, FieldTurf), Morgantown

n Series: Oklahoma leads 4-2

n Last meeting: Oklahoma defeated WVU, 16-7, on Sept. 7, 2013 at Memorial Stadium in Norman, Okla.

n Coach: Bob Stoops (16th year, 160-39)

Checking them out

Here’s how difficult West Virginia’s schedule is in a nutshell: The Mountaineers’ opener against perennial national championship contender Alabama might not be even the most difficult assignment of the first month of the season. That’s because at least one preseason ranking, by The Sporting News, has Oklahoma ranked No. 1 in the country.

OK, so maybe that’s a stretch. After all, the Sooners were quite average for a majority of last season. But consider that OU has one of the best combinations of offensive and defensive fronts in the nation, a defense that returns nearly intact and enough skill players to take advantage of all that. And when last we saw the Sooners, they were ripping Alabama in the Sugar Bowl.

The wild card, of course, is at quarterback. That was a mess last year with Trevor Knight, Blake Bell and Kendal Thompson. Finally, in the Sugar Bowl, Knight played like he never had before. He’d completed 47 passes all season at barely over a 50-percent rate, but then went 32 of 44 for 348 yards and four TDs against the Tide. Well, Bell is now a tight end, Thompson is at Utah and the job is Knight’s. If the sophomore is closer to the Sugar Bowl QB than the regular-season QB he was a year ago, Oklahoma could be really good.

That’s because the line is solid even with the loss of center Gabe Ikard. And while there’s not a lot of experience at the skill positions, at OU it’s just a matter of plugging in the next five- or four-star recruit. At running back that could be freshman Joe Mixon, who is being compared to Adrian Peterson when he arrived in Norman. Sterling Shepard is the top receiver, surrounded by newcomers.

But even if Knight and Mixon live up to all that potential, it’s still on defense where Oklahoma might be the best. The front seven is led by linebacker Eric Striker and end Charles Tapper, although it has to do a better job against the run. It’s the core of a group that sacked Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron seven times and intercepted him twice. The only question might be replacing Aaron Colvin at cornerback, but like with the skill positions on offense, it’s probably just a matter of picking the right blue-chip recruit already in the fold.

Oh, and on special teams, kicker Michael Hunnicutt missed just three field goals all year (just one inside 40 yards) and punter Jed Barnett averaged almost 42 yards.

All-conference candidates

n Offense: OT Daryl Williams, OG Adam Shead, WR Sterling Shepard, QB Trevor Knight

n Defense: LB Eric Striker, LB Frank Shannon, CB Zack Sanchez, DE Charles Tapper

n Special teams: K Michael Hunnicutt

Notes

Oklahoma’s Aug. 30 opener against Louisiana Tech in Norman will be Bob Stoops’ 200th game as a head coach, all at OU … The Sooners don’t host a game between Sept. 13 and Oct. 18, playing two on the road, the Red River game with Texas in Dallas and an open date. But then four of the final six games are in Norman. … Despite that dearth of home games in the middle, the schedule is another reason Oklahoma has a chance to excel. The most difficult true road game might be Texas Tech, TCU or even West Virginia. Baylor, Oklahoma State and Kansas State all must go to Norman and the highlight of the non-league slate is Tennessee at home.

2014 schedule

Date Opponent 2013

Aug. 30 Louisiana Tech DNP

Sept. 6 at Tulsa W 51-20

Sept. 13 Tennessee DNP

Sept. 20 at West Virginia* W 16-7

Sept. 27 Open

Oct. 4 at TCU* W 20-17

Oct. 11 vs. Texas* (Dallas) L 20-36

Oct. 18 Kansas State* W 41-31

Oct. 25 Open

Nov. 1 at Iowa State* W 48-10

Nov. 8 Baylor* L 12-41

Nov. 15 at Texas Tech* W 38-30

Nov. 22 Kansas* W 34-19

Nov. 29 Open

Dec. 6 Oklahoma State* W 33-24

* Big 12 Conference games

2013 record: 11-2 overall, 7-2 Big 12 (won 45-31 over Alabama in the Sugar Bowl)

Dropped: Louisiana Monroe (W 34-0), Notre Dame (W 35-21)


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