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Oklahoma Sooners Football vs. Florida: Cotton Bowl preview, storylines & predictions

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In just their second meeting ever, OU and UF prepare for an epic showdown in JerryWorld.

Penn State v Memphis Photo by Benjamin Solomon/Getty Images

The No. 6 Oklahoma Sooners (8-2) have reached the final stage of their 2020 season, and it’s a meeting with the No. 7 Florida Gators (8-3) in the 85th Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic. OU enters the postseason having won its last seven games, including a sixth consecutive Big 12 Championship. Meanwhile, UF limps into this matchup having dropped its last two contests — the most recent of which was for the SEC title. Oddly enough, this will only be the second meeting all-time between these two programs. The first time was for all the BCS marbles nearly 12 years ago, but we don’t need to talk about that. How will round two unfold? Let’s find out.

Date, Time & TV: Wednesday, Dec. 30 at 7 p.m. CT on ESPN

Location: AT&T Stadium — Arlington, Texas

Streaming: WatchESPN

Line: Oklahoma -3.5 (as of Tuesday at 6:45 p.m. CT)

O/U: 68

Links of the week:

Major Storylines

Will Florida’s depleted team be able to compete with OU?

Two days before this bowl game was set to kick off, a number of Gator players made the decision to opt-out of the contest altogether. In total, Florida’s top four receiving threats — TE Kyle Pitts, WR Kadarius Toney, WR Trevon Grimes and WR Jacob Copeland (COVID) — will not participate in this game. In addition, CB Marco Wilson and S Shawn Davis will also be unavailable.

To make matters worse for UF, head coach Dan Mullen stated on Tuesday that his team is only expecting to have around 60 scholarship players available against Oklahoma due to COVID and/or other reasons. In essence, not only will the Gators be without several productive starters, their depth has also taken a significant hit.

Needless to say, these losses hurt Florida’s chances of winning on Wednesday, but as we’ve seen this season (i.e. Kansas State), the Sooners can’t afford to take any team lightly, no matter how depleted its roster appears.

Can Oklahoma make a statement heading into the offseason?

Since Florida is basically fielding a shell of the team that reached the SEC Championship Game, some believe this to be a lose-lose situation for Oklahoma. The thought is, if the Sooners win, all credit will be withheld, and if they lose, it will be a huge setback and a black mark for the program going into the offseason.

Personally, I believe there is still some value to be gained for OU in this game, particularly if this team handles its business the way it ought to under the circumstances. First of all, a win would extend the second-longest winning streak in the Power Five to eight games. Furthermore, nothing can replicate the kind of positive momentum boost gained from winning quite like a season-ending New Year’s Six Bowl victory.

How will OU’s secondary hold up against Kyle Trask?

Florida’s Kyle Trask leads the nation with 4,125 passing yards and 43 touchdowns. He’s also thrown just five interceptions. Judging by the stats alone, it’s obvious that he is more than competent with the football in his hands.

For as improved as Oklahoma’s defense has been this season, the primary weakness on that side of the ball lies in the back end. Even without his top four pass catchers, Trask has the ability to pick apart OU’s corners and safeties all night long. The key for the Sooners in this mismatch of sorts will be in how they perform in obvious passing downs. If Alex Grinch’s secondary can simply limit the big plays on the outside, and sneak in a takeaway or two, that should be enough to prevent an unwanted shootout in JerryWorld.

Can the Sooners’ D-line prove itself against SEC competition?

All season long, Oklahoma’s defensive line has been sensational in pressuring quarterbacks and stopping the run. That was mostly against Big 12 competition. Now they have an opportunity to flex their muscle against a strong O-line unit from the SEC.

As UF LB James Houston said last week, “Oklahoma is a good matchup, but they’re not on our level. They’re not SEC. They’re not the Florida Gators.” Well Mr. Houston, I’ve got some news for you. ‘Round these parts, thems fightin’ words. I assure you all, OU’s D-line caught wind of these comments, and that’s the last group I’d want to call out. Ronnie Perkins, Nik Bonitto, Isaiah Thomas and Perrion Winfrey have played with a chip on their collective shoulder all season, and now they get to compete against talent from the ballyhooed Southeastern Conference? I’ll bring the popcorn.

Now is the time for Lincoln Riley to earn his first bowl win

In his first three seasons as head coach, Lincoln Riley managed to lead the Sooners to the College Football Playoff each year, but unfortunately, an appearance was as far as they would go each time. Oklahoma’s streak of making the CFP ended in 2020, but the chance to finish the season with a win is more attainable now than it has ever been since Riley era began.

Of course, Sooner Nation would ideally have this team in the playoffs every season, but since that possibility was essentially wiped out in the first week of October, this Cotton Bowl is the next best thing. And although Riley has received his share of criticism for the semifinal losses, it’s largely been forgiven considering his team made it there in the first place. Now, he will not be met with such grace. For all intents and purposes, this has turned into a must-win game for OU. Not because people’s job will be on the line otherwise, but because if not now, when?

Prediction

With Florida missing so much of its offensive production going into this matchup, on top of its struggles to run the ball, I predict Oklahoma’s confident defense will take advantage of these shortcomings early and often with an aggressive game plan to get after Heisman Trophy finalist Kyle Trask. On the other side, I envision a relatively slow start for Spencer Rattler and the Sooners’ offense, but Lincoln Riley will use Rhamondre Stevenson in the passing game to wear down the Gators up front. In the second half, I expect OU to open its down field passing game with targets to Marvin Mims and Theo Wease, while the secondary will create a key turnover against UF’s now inexperienced receiving corps. Ultimately, this game stays close throughout most of the night, but in the end, the Crimson & Cream will pull away with a late score and seal the deal.

Oklahoma 35, Florida 20

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