Big 12 pick of the week: Oklahoma-West Virginia once looked upon as probable league title tilt

Matt Cashore-US PRESSWIRE

Oklahoma and West Virgina were ranked No. 4 and No. 5 in the country earlier this season. Neither is a top-10 team now, although the Sooners currently sit 12th in the BCS, but this game still has importance for both teams.

Ten months ago, and again in the preseason prior to the start of the 2012 college football season, college football analysts and Big 12 pundits and fans were pointing to Saturday's game in Morgantown, W.V., matching Oklahoma and West Virginia as the game of the year in the Big 12 and one with BCS implications that would probably decide the conference championship.

That was then, and this is now. And although this is still destined to be a very good game, it doesn't come close to living up to its preseason hype. Kansas State took care of that, beating both teams on the road and delivering a big-time, old-school beatdown in its visit to West Virginia mountain country by the humbling score of 55-14.

While Kansas State stands at the doorstep of its second Big 12 championship and possible first-ever appearance in the national championship game, Oklahoma and West Virginia essentially find themselves fighting for football respectability, and for OU a potential BCS bowl at-large bid if both the Sooners and Wildcats win out in their remaining games.

Oklahoma and West Virginia are two teams currently headed in opposite directions. Oklahoma has won its last five conference games after losing 24-19 to Kansas State in late September. The Sooners are 7-2 overall and 5-1 in the conference, with their two losses coming against two of the top three teams in the country (No. 1 Kansas State and No. 3 Notre Dame), based on the current BCS (Bowl Championship Series) standings.

West Virginia started out the season at 5-0 and ranked as high as fifth in the national polls. Since then, the Mountaineers have dropped four in a row and, except for a double-overtime loss to TCU, by fairly decisive margins (by 35 points at Texas Tech, by 41 points to Kansas State and by a 21-point margin last weekend at Oklahoma State).

Both teams have senior quarterbacks - Geno Smith for West Virginia and Landry Jones at Oklahoma - who average over 300 yards passing per game. The Sooners are a little more balanced offensively with a better run game than the Mountaineers, but both teams average around 480 yards of total offense. The Sooners have multiple receiving targets, led by junior Kenny Stills (now second all-time at OU in pass receptions) that Jones throws to in the course of a game. The Mountaineers rely heavily on wide receivers Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin, two of the best in the country, in their passing game. Austin ranks No, 1 in the country in receptions per game (10.67).

The major difference between these two teams is on the defensive side of the ball. Oklahoma ranks 20th in the nation in total defense (allowing 325.2 yards per game) and eighth in defending against the pass (170.2 yards per game), while the pass-heavy Mountaineers are 19th in the country in total offense (480 yards per game, 348 passing). The West Virginia defense, on the other hand, has yielded nearly the same number of yards per game (479.8) as it offensive team generates.

When the Sooners have reached the red zone this season (inside the opponent's 20-yard line), they have scored 93 percent of the time (42 of 45), best in the Big 12 and fifth-best in the country. In contrast, the Mountaineers are tied for 85th in the nation in red-zone defensive efficiency at 84.8 percent (39 of 46).

Three keys to the game

  • Oklahoma ranks 13th in the country in scoring offense (39.8 points), while West Virginia is 117th in scoring defense (41.4).
  • While most expect this to be a relatively high-scoring game, here is something to consider: Oklahoma has won 23 consecutive games in which the Sooners have held their opponent to 21 points or less, and 30 out of 32 when their opponent scores 30 or fewer points. West Virginia has lost four of its last five games when it has been held to 21 points or less.
  • The Sooners' defense has not allowed a receiver more than six receptions in a game this season and has not yielded a 300-yard passing game in its nine games. West Virginia's QB, Geno Smith, is third in the nation, averaging 337.9 passing yards, while Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey average 10 and eight catches, respectively, a game.

Both offenses are explosive and highly capable of chewing up big chunks of yardage in just a few plays. Oklahoma has the better defense, however, and will make more stops than the Mountaineers' defense, which will be the difference in the game. Game prediction: Oklahoma 35, West Virginia 24

Other Big 12 Games This Weekend (Week 12)

(Projected winner in bold face)

Kansas State @ Baylor

Iowa State @ Kansas

Texas Tech @ Oklahoma State

Last week: 5-0

For the season: 51-13 (.796)

Follow Big 12 football all season long, including news and commentary on all 10 conference teams, at SB Nation Kansas City.

For more news and social commentary on the Oklahoma Sooners visit Crimsonandcream.com

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