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Oklahoma Sooners Football: High Stakes in Oklahoma (and Other Pre-Game Thoughts)

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A Bedlam replete with some of the nation’s top talent highlights the last de facto Big 12 Championship between the Cowboys and Sooners.

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Oklahoma v West Virginia Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

For the fourth time in six seasons, Bedlam plays host to the de facto Big 12 Championship and with both top-10 teams stocked with a bevy of explosive, stat-stuffing playmakers, another series thriller could be on full display in Norman this Saturday. Through the short-lived but suspenseful 10-team, Round Robin era of the Big 12 with no championship game, OU and OSU have been the conference’s two best and most consistent programs, accentuated further in a year with zero Texas teams currently ranked in the nation’s top 25. Baylor, TCU, Tech and the Snydercats, despite moments of success, simply haven’t kept up consistently enough with the Oklahoma schools. These last few seasons have shown little brother’s ascent is not to be understated or overlooked, especially come tomorrow.

Just how good can this Bedlam be? Neither team plays particularly great defense and must rely mainly on turnovers to disrupt their opponent’s momentum and create advantages. While Oklahoma State’s Vincent Taylor and OU’s Obo Okoronkwo, among others, are capable of coming up with a crucial play or two for their respective defenses, this game will once again belong to two of the very best offenses in the country.

Capturing the Nation’s Attention

Baker Mayfield is now the highest-graded quarterback in the country according to the latest from Pro Football Focus:

We couldn’t keep Mayfield out of the top spot any longer. The combination of Mayfield topping our PFF QB grades for the second straight week (he has earned a 93.0 on our 0-100 scale), Mayfield playing well in the Sooners’ blowout win over West Virginia and previous No. 1 Lamar Jackson struggling in Louisville’s loss to Houston led to us bumping him up to No. 1. His adjusted completion rate of 78.7 percent is most among Power-5 quarterbacks.

Oklahoma State’s Mason Rudolph, who missed last year’s Bedlam, ranks third:

Rudolph has had the fastest rise up these rankings in the second half of the season, and he currently owns the second-highest PFF grade among QBs (behind Mayfield, and one spot ahead of Jackson) at 91.9. Rudolph has done some of his best work this season on deep passes, ranking second in QB rating in the Power-5 on throws of 20-plus yards.

ESPN has moved Dede Westbrook into the top spot of ALL PLAYERS in the nation, and PFF considers the Mayfield-Westbrook connection (aptly dubbed “Maybrook”) as one of the most lethal attacks to come along in years:

Since the Week 3 Ohio State debacle, Maybrook has been the most prolific QB-WR duo in the country. They’ve connected on 53-of-66 passes for 1,194 yards and a nation-leading 15 touchdowns. Of those 53 completions, 12 of them were on throws more than 20 yards downfield, and have resulted in 603 yards gained. That’s more than 50 yards per completion on deep throws. 10 of the 12 catches went for touchdowns.

OSU corner Ramon Richards will have his hands full with the speedy one. On the flip side, I’m not sure I want to talk about the OU secondary on the OSU trio of pass catchers:

The expectations are that Oklahoma will line up top corner Jordan Thomas (75.1 coverage grade) across from Cowboys star WR James Washington, with safety Ahmad Thomas (77.6) providing over-the-top help. That leaves slot corner Steven Parker (75.2) to match up with slot receiver Jalen McCleskey. And finally, possibly the most important matchup of the passing game: Oklahoma corner Jordan Parker against the combination of Jhajuan Seales and Chris Lacy.

Parker has not played particularly well in coverage since taking over as the second corner in Week 6. He’s given up 24 catches on 48 targets for 338 yards and five touchdowns, while himself recording just a single pass-breakup in that span. His 45.6 coverage grade ranks 40th among corners in the Big 12 alone. Lacy and Seales, who split time at the second receiver position, have combined almost exactly equally for 60 catches, 958 yards and six touchdowns.

We covered the importance of the run game in this matchup earlier in the week, but it goes without saying there’ll be plenty of deep balls and big plays throughout this ball game. As both teams’ secondaries will be tested all afternoon, Joe Mixon could be the key offensive player who can dominate in both the run and passing games to give the advantage to the Sooners:

There are few running backs that possess the overall abilities that Joe Mixon does. At 87.1 overall, he’s the third-highest-graded running back in the country. He’s one of just five running backs to have over 1000 yards rushing and 400 yards receiving, and has done so with just 184 touches. To put that in perspective, none of the other four did it in less than 262 touches. As a receiving back, he’s one of the best, with a 2.60 yards per route run average that ranks third in the country. While both teams have elite quarterbacks throwing to top-notch receivers and defenses that are very similar, nobody on Oklahoma State can compare to Joe Mixon.

I’m gearing up for a high-energy rooster kickoff full of offensive fireworks, in which a turnover or trick play ultimately decides a wild finish. Here’s to a great six-year run between the Pokes and the Sooners.

My score prediction: 48-44, OU.

Recruiting Returns

While Baylor continues its’ free fall back to being Baylor and Texas is in rebuilding mode once again, OU is the only Big 12 school in top 25 of the 2017 team rankings across the four major services. The Sooners are 3rd in Rivals and Scout, 4th in 247Sports, 5th on ESPN. The only other Big 12 program to crack the top 30 is little brother, who currently sits at 27th on ESPN and 247Sports, 29th on Scout and 30th on Rivals.

This sets up a potentially huge weekend in which numerous recruits will be in attendance for the game, including Baylor de-commit Noah Daniels along with big-time wide receivers James Robinson, who Rivals ranks No. 10 nationally, and JUCO standout Marquise Brown.

I wish this was the last Big 12 Championship ever, and not just the de facto version. I state the obvious here when I say it’s time for the Oklahoma family to move farther west or up north to an actual Power 5 conference. Mike Holder, Joe C.: this is ridiculous, fellas. We need out.

Bulletin Board Words from Dede?

Facepalm. Yep, Pokes are already wild with this.

Conference Championship Picks

MAC Championship: Western Michigan over Ohio, 38-20.

Pac-12 Championship: Huskies take care of the Buffs, 35-23.

SEC Championship: Bama destroys Florida, 31-6.

ACC Championship: Clemson gobbles up VA Tech, 41-17.

Big Ten Championship: Badgers corral the Nittany Lions, 17-13.

Time to Bedlam, Sooner Nation!