It almost seems like all of the college football games up until this point have been practises when you look at the Week 4 schedule. The actual action has now started. That’s how impressive the Saturday schedule appears to be, with a number of games pitting ranked teams against one another, a variety of intriguing narratives, and a “Big Noon Kickoff” game featuring Cincinnati’s Big 12 debut—against the formidable Oklahoma Sooners, no less—as well as a number of other intriguing matchups.
No. 16 Oklahoma at Cincinnati (Noon ET on FOX and the FOX Sports app):
David Cohen: With convincing victories over Tulsa (66-17), Southern Methodist (28-11), and Arkansas State (73-0), Oklahoma has sprinted into 2023 with the biggest point differential in the country (plus-139). The No. 3 scoring offence and No. 5 scoring defence in the nation are both led by the Sooners, who also top the Big 12 in both categories. But while head coach Brent Venables gets his squad ready for conference play, most people are wondering if the Sooners are for genuine.
When the Venables era began a year ago, Oklahoma did so with a similar wrath, launching into a 3-0 run with landslide victories over UTEP (45-13), Kent State (33-3) and Nebraska (49-14). The key stats from that three-game trip included numbers that were uncannily similar to what the Sooners produced in 2023: scoring averages of 42.3 points in 2022 and 55.7 points this year; defensive allowances of 10 points in 2022 and 9.3 points this year; and a yardage total of 1,502 that puts last year’s offence within 100 yards of this year’s output.
The Sooners dropped their first three conference games against Kansas State, TCU, and Texas, which led to a 6-7 overall record, and their promising start in 2022 suddenly came to an end. Six of the program’s seven losses came to unranked opponents, matching a percentage last seen in 1996. Despite having a top-15 offence, the Sooners were the only team in college football to end the season with a losing record. The cause? a vulnerable defence that ranked 122nd overall (461 yards per game), 88th in opponents’ third-down conversion rate (40.9%), and 104th in opponents’ touchdown rates in the end zone (67.2%).
Dillon Gabriel is third overall with a 92.5 total QBR, an 11/1 TD/INT ratio, and an 83% completion rate.
Although Cincinnati’s defence may be the Sooners’ first respectable opponent, Oklahoma’s offence is better than respectable, scoring 56 points per game on average, including 66 or more twice in the past three games.
In the midst of a Golden Hurricane, Oklahoma’s defence intercepted five passes while allowing nine points per game.
It’s just a building in Oklahoma that looks like a storm is approaching. Just the professional team plays down here. When the Conestoga passed through Ohio the last time, Baker Mayfield put a flag in the exact middle of the Shoe in Columbus.
Brandon Fischer In spite of Cincinnati’s fairly puzzling loss to Miami (Ohio), this game is still the first genuine chance to determine whether Oklahoma has improved enough on both sides of the ball. The Sooners are still mostly unknown even though they have won all three games by 17 points or more and have the top point differential in the nation. Were the problems that surfaced against SMU for a brief period a one-off or something that a group like the Bearcats could better take advantage of?
Oklahoma is undoubtedly capable of making the big play offensively. Gabriel tops the conference in most passing categories and appears to have discovered Andrel Anthony as a new favourite target. Even though you would for the running back pecking order to be a little more obvious, the offensive line seems more reliable and the running back rotation has already shown to be effective. However, it’s still early. Despite the good numbers, Jeff Lebby’s offence didn’t quite reach its peak effectiveness against the Mustangs, which will be especially important for Big 12 away games (much less a game versus Texas in a few weeks).
In addition, Venables’ defence appears to be in good shape (9.3 PPG allowed), and the front seven in particular has impressed despite the subpar opposition they have played thus far. LB The way Danny Stutsman flies over the field and manages to find the ball makes him an early front-runner for my favourite Big 12 defender to watch.
It is as vital for UC to capitalise on its chances in the red zone due to the progress on that side of the ball. They were terrible against the RedHawks in that area of the field, which significantly contributed to the game’s need for overtime when it might have been won by more than 20 points. With so many new players on the team, Scott Satterfield’s team did appear much better than I had anticipated. They’ll need to pray that a rocking Nippert and a more serious focus would enable them to start their new Big 12 campaign with a victory.
Laken Litman: Oklahoma enters this matchup having destroyed Tulsa 66-17 on Saturday. In a nearly flawless performance, Gabriel completed 28 of 31 throws for 421 yards, five touchdowns, and one interception. The Sooners have gotten off to the most explosive start possible this season after a disappointing 6-7 year in which they dropped four of their final five games, outscoring their first three opponents 167-28. It is therefore not unexpected that they are third in the nation for scoring offence, averaging 55.7 points each game.
The Bearcats are coming off a shocking loss, but they still want to make a solid first impression as a Big 12 member team. But really, will Cincinnati’s defence apply enough pressure to slow down OU’s tempo? Although it hasn’t faced an offence like the Sooners before, its defense is allowing opponents to score just over 20 points per game, which might spell trouble.
No. 22 UCLA at No. 11 Utah (3:30 p.m. ET on FOX):
Cohen: It’s unusual for a true freshman to beat out juniors Collin Schlee and Ethan Garbers for the starting quarterback position at a Power 5 school. However, that’s what happened at UCLA. But Bruins supporters are starting to see why Moore was considered the No. 5 overall prospect in the 2023 recruiting cycle, with coaches from Michigan, Oregon, LSU, and Notre Dame vying for his pledge. Moore has combined a respectable level of efficiency (62.7% completion rate) with the type of ball security he was known for at Detroit’s Martin Luther King High School (seven TDs, one INT) through three games.
Fischer: It’s no surprise that all eyes will be on the quarterbacks in this game. If UCLA wants to have a chance to end Utah’s 16-game winning streak at Rice Eccles, Moore, who has been impressive with his deep balls, will need to hit on multiple efforts down the field. A significant issue for the Utes will be whether Cam Rising will start. If he does, it would be interesting to see how much rust he has on his touch and how he moves in the pocket after tearing his ACL. Nate Johnson can be a double-edged sword, making him even more dangerous while facing D’Anton Lynn, a relatively inexperienced defensive coach.
Litman: Unlike many other teams across the nation, Utah hasn’t had a cupcake schedule to begin the season. After the Gators defeated then-No. 11 Tennessee in the Swamp last weekend, the Utes’ Week 1 victory against Florida looks even better. In the fourth quarter of Week 2 in Waco, Utah rallied to defeat Baylor. The Utes defeated Weber State 31-7 in Week 3 with no issues at all.
Also, in none of these games has Kyle Whittingham’s team used Rising. He had been rehabbing from the ACL injury he suffered against Penn State in the Rose Bowl the previous year.
No. 19 Colorado at No. 10 Oregon (3:30 p.m. ET):
Shedeur Sanders, a starter, has a 73-8 record. He is throwing for 417 yards on average per game and has a 10:1 TD-to-INT ratio. He guided Jackson State to an 11-2 record and a SWAC championship in 2021. Apart from what is obvious, what is noteworthy about that year? Travis Hunter wasn’t a member of that group.
Prime has however been honest about his squad: “We haven’t played a full game.” The defence is hot garbage when the offence is performing well. The offence is terrible if the defence is performing well. Furthermore, the special teams are not unique.