Saturday, Sept. 1 / 11 a.m. CT / Owen Field
No. 7/5 Oklahoma begins its 124th season of varsity football, and second under head coach Lincoln Riley, when it hosts Florida Atlantic on Saturday at 11 a.m. CT at Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. The game will be televised nationally by FOX with Gus Johnson, Joel Klatt and Jenny Taft announcing.
Saturday’s game will mark the first-ever meeting between OU and FAU.
Oklahoma is 94-23-6 all-time in season openers and 76-15-4 in home openers at Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium, which opened in 1923. OU has won 12 straight home openers (last such loss was a 17-10 defeat vs. TCU in 2005).
The Sooners are 23-2 all-time as the No. 7 team in the AP poll and have won their last seven games when holding that ranking. The last time OU was ranked No. 7 in the AP poll was for the 2017 opener against UTEP (a 56-7 victory). Its two losses as the No. 7 team came to No. 9 Boise State (43-42 in OT) in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl and to unranked TCU (17-10 in Norman) in the 2005 opener.
Oklahoma is looking to register its 16th season of at least 10 wins since the start of the 2000 campaign. The Sooners are the only FBS program to rack up 15 seasons of double-digit victories since 2000. OU also leads all FBS programs with its 38 all-time 10-plus-win seasons.
OU is coming off a 12-2 season in which it won its third straight Big 12 championship and made its second College Football Playoff appearance in the last three years. The Sooners, who finished No. 3 in the final AP and coaches’ polls, became the first program to ever produce three unanimous All-Americans on offense in one season (tight end Mark Andrews, offensive lineman Orlando Brown and quarterback Baker Mayfield). Defensive end/linebacker Ogbonnia Okoronkwo was also a first-team All-American by the Walter Camp Football Foundation.
After starting the 2017 season 1-3, Florida Atlantic won its last 10 games and claimed the Conference USA title with an 8-0 league mark. The Owls, who own the nation’s second-longest active winning streak, beat Akron 50-3 in the Boca Raton Bowl.
The Sooners have scored at least 30 points in 23 of their last 24 games (29 in the other). They have won 22 of those 24.
FOR THE FANS
Two hours before each home game, head coach Lincoln Riley and the Sooners will disembark the team buses immediately west of the intersection of Lindsey St. and Jenkins Ave. for the “Walk of Champions.” A pep rally, conducted by OU Spirit, will be held 15 minutes prior to the team’s arrival. This week’s pep rally will be at approximately 9:30 a.m. with the team arriving at approximately 9:45 a.m. Fans are encouraged to cheer on the team upon arrival and watch as Coach Riley and the squad walk the final yards west along Lindsey St. to their locker room.
Sooner Fan Fest will be held in the Rhyne Hall parking lot directly east of McCasland Field House. It opens at 7 a.m. off Jenkins Ave. and concludes at 10:30 a.m. Fans will have the opportunity to meet Boomer and Sooner and have their photos taken with the Sooner Schooner, the mascots and members of the OU spirit squads at the OU Marketing trailer. Other elements at Fan Fest this week include a dee-jay and a jumbotron. Food will be available from the following food trucks: Midway Deli, The Meating Place, Phill Me Up Cheesesteaks, That Pie Truck and Kona Ice. And the Sooner Radio Network (flagship 107.7 The Franchise) will be broadcasting live from Fan Fest from 9 to 10 a.m. with Toby Rowland, Merv Johnson, Chris Plank, Ted Lehman and Rufus Alexander.
FIVE KEY STORYLINES
Saturday’s game will mark the first for Oklahoma since 2014 without Baker Mayfield as its quarterback. Over the last three seasons with Mayfield under center, the Sooners have gone 34-6 (.850), won three Big 12 titles and made two College Football Playoff appearances. Mayfield finished fourth in Heisman Trophy voting in 2015, third in 2016 and became OU’s sixth Heisman winner in 2017 before becoming the No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. Redshirt junior Kyler Murray will replace Mayfield for the season opener. The game will actually mark Murray’s second start for the Sooners, as he got the nod in OU’s home finale against West Virginia last season when Mayfield was suspended for the opening series.
Oklahoma is 21-0 all-time against teams currently in Conference USA. It owns 7-0 marks against North Texas and Rice and a 4-0 record against UTEP. OU has also registered wins over Louisiana Tech, Middle Tennessee and UAB.
Oklahoma has won more Big 12 championships over the last 19 years (11) than it has lost home games. OU is 106-10 (.914) at Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium since the start of the 1999 season, with all 116 of those games sellouts. It is the best home winning percentage among Power Five schools over the last 19 seasons (Ohio State is next at .881). OU has outscored its opponents by an average of 42-16 in those games.
Shane Beamer will make his Oklahoma coaching debut Saturday after joining the OU staff in January. The Sooners’ assistant head coach for offense is in charge of the team’s tight ends and H-backs, and is also assisting with special teams. The son of former Murray State and Virginia Tech head coach Frank Beamer, he was Georgia’s special teams coordinator and tight ends coach the last two seasons.
Saturday’s game will mark the first of five OU games in the month of September. The Sooners have played five September games in only one other season 2007 (went 4-1). This year also marks just the third in school history in which OU has four September home games on its schedule (1995 [3-1] and 2000 [4-0]).
SCOUTING FLORIDA ATLANTIC
Florida Atlantic is led by second-year head coach Lane Kiffin, who guided the Owls to an 11-3 record, the Conference USA championship and a victory in the Boca Raton Bowl in 2017. He has compiled a 46-24 mark and is in his seventh season as a collegiate head coach.
The Owls, who received votes in both the 2018 preseason AP (No. 30 overall) and coaches (No. 33) polls, won their first C-USA Championship in 2017 with a perfect 8-0 league record, followed by a 41-17 defeat of North Texas in the championship game. Eight players earned all-conference honors, including seven on the first team.
FAU returns 11 starters on offense and five on defense, including the preseason C-USA Offensive and Defensive Players of the Year in junior running back Devin Singletary and senior linebacker Azeez Al-Shaair. The Owls were picked by the league’s head coaches to repeat as C-USA East Division Champs in 2018.
Singletary, a third-team Associated Press All-American in 2017 and the C-USA MVP, rushed for 1,920 yards and 32 touchdowns and caught 19 passes for 198 yards and a score. He led the nation in scoring as well as in rushing and total touchdowns last year. Al-Shaair paced the Owls with 147 total tackles last year, including 11.0 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks. He ranked fifth in the country in total tackles.
Singletary and Al-Shaair are joined on the Preseason All-Conference USA Team by senior offensive lineman Reggie Bain, junior tight end Harrison Bryant and senior defensive backs Jalen Young and Shelton Lewis. Bain caught 32 passes for 408 yards and five touchdowns in 2017. Young totaled 77 tackles and had seven interceptions last year while Lewis finished with 47 stops, four interceptions and eight pass breakups.
FAU began playing football in 2001 under then-head coach Howard Schnellenberger, who went 5-5-1 in 1995 in his only season as Oklahoma’s head coach. The Owls posted a 58-74 record in seven seasons under Schnellenberger. FAU owns an 87-119 (.422) all-time record.
Oklahoma returns 12 players (not including specialists) who started at least five games last year. Eleven of those 12 started at least seven games and 10 started at least eight contests. OU also welcomes back Austin Seibert, who handled all of the Sooners’ place-kicking, punting and kickoff duties the last two seasons, and was OU’s punter and place-kicker in 2015 as a freshman.
The six returning offensive starters are redshirt junior running back Rodney Anderson (started last seven games), junior receiver Marquise “Hollywood” Brown (eight starts), redshirt junior tackle Bobby Evans (14 starts), sophomore receiver CeeDee Lamb (13 starts) and senior guards Ben Powers and Dru Samia (12 starts each).
Returning defensive starters are junior defensive end Amani Bledsoe (started eight games, including last six), junior linebacker Caleb Kelly (13 starts), junior cornerback Parnell Motley (13 starts), sophomore linebacker Kenneth Murray (14 starts), sophomore cornerback Tre Norwood (started last five games) and senior defensive tackle Marquise Overton (made nine starts, including the last seven games).
LEAGUE-HIGH SEVEN SOONERS ON PRESEASON ALL-BIG 12 TEAM
A league-high seven OU players, representing eight spots, were named to the 2018 Preseason All-Big 12 Football Team that was chosen by media representatives who cover the league. Junior running back Rodney Anderson, junior wide receiver Marquise Brown, sophomore tight end Grant Calcaterra, junior offensive lineman Bobby Evans, senior offensive lineman Ben Powers and senior kicker/punter Austin Seibert were among the 29 players who were named to the all-league squad by position. OU freshman defensive back Brendan Radley-Hiles was named Preseason Big 12 Newcomer of the Year.
The Sooners’ eight overall selections were three more than the team with the next most (West Virginia). OU also boasted six offensive picks, twice as many the Mountaineers, who had the second most.
MURRAY GETS THE CALL AT QB
After a competitive battle during August camp, head coach Lincoln Riley announced last Wednesday that redshirt junior Kyler Murray will be OU’s starting quarterback against Florida Atlantic and that redshirt sophomore Austin Kendall will be his backup.
A 5-10, 195-pounder from Allen, Texas, Murray was the backup last season to Baker Mayfield, who won OU’s sixth Heisman Trophy.
Amazingly, Murray was more efficient as a passer last season than was Mayfield the man who holds the top two single-season passing efficiency ratings in major college football history. Murray completed 18 of his 21 throws for 359 yards and three touchdowns without an interception in seven games in 2017. He boasted an eye-popping 276.5 efficiency rating to Mayfield’s record-setting 198.9 mark, but didn’t have nearly enough pass attempts to qualify in the category.
Murray also ran 14 times for 142 yards (10.1 average). Included was a 66-yard dash on the first play of the game against West Virginia in OU’s home finale.
Murray started his collegiate career at Texas A&M, where he played in eight games and made three starts in 2015. He was a consensus five-star recruit out of Allen High School and was named 2014 national high school player of the year by Parade, Gatorade, MaxPreps and USA Today. Murray went 43-0 as a high school starter and earned state titles each of his last three years.
RECAPPING A MEMORABLE 2017
Lincoln Riley’s debut year as Oklahoma head coach was a banner one, as the Sooners posted a 12-2 record, went 8-1 in Big 12 play, won a third straight conference title (beat TCU 41-17 in the Big 12 Championship Game), qualified for their second College Football Playoff in three years (were the No. 2 seed), finished No. 3 in both major national polls, set multiple school offensive records and produced four first-team All-Americans in tight end Mark Andrews (unanimous), offensive tackle Orlando Brown (unanimous), quarterback Baker Mayfield (unanimous) and defensive end/linebacker Ogbonnia Okoronkwo. Mayfield, in a landslide vote, also became OU’s sixth Heisman Trophy winner and was the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL Draft by the Cleveland Browns.
Here are some more 2017 accomplishments:
Oklahoma set single-season school records for total offense (579.6 ypg; led FBS), yards per play (8.3; second all-time in FBS), passing yards per game (361.8), passing efficiency rating (202.7; FBS record) and completion percentage (.714; led FBS), and led the FBS in first downs (361). OU also ranked third nationally in scoring offense (45.1 ppg) and passing offense (361.8 ypg), and paced the Big 12 in rushing offense (217.8 ypg).
The Sooners’ 12 wins were tied for the second most in program history.
In addition to delivering OU’s sixth Heisman Trophy to Norman, Mayfield won the Maxwell Award, Davey O’Brien Award, Manning Award, Walter Camp Player of the Year Award and Earl Campbell Tyler Rose Award. He was also named the AP and Sporting News Player of the Year. Andrews won OU’s first Mackey Award.
OU led the league with six first-team All-Big 12 selections, and four Sooners earned individual all-league awards. Mayfield was Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year, Brown was Big 12 Offensive Lineman of the Year, Okoronkwo was Co-Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year and Kenneth Murray was Co-Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year.
Murray was named a freshman All-American by the Football Writers Association of America and USA Today, while CeeDee Lamb picked up the same honor from ESPN.
Co-offensive coordinator and offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh was one of five finalists for the Frank Broyles Award (presented to the nation’s best assistant coach).
RILEY’S FAST START
The Football Bowl Subdivision’s youngest head coach (33) at the time of his hiring, Lincoln Riley became just the fifth mentor in FBS history with no previous head-coaching experience at a four-year college to win at least 12 games in his debut season. The previous record for wins by a first-year OU head coach was 10 by Chuck Fairbanks in 1967 and Barry Switzer in 1973. Switzer holds the Sooners’ record for most wins in his first two seasons as head coach (21 in 1973-74). Riley, who turns 35 on Sept. 5, needs nine victories in 2018 to tie the mark.
OFFENSE HAS ROLLED UNDER RILEY
Oklahoma has a legitimate claim as the nation’s most productive offense since the start of the 2015 season, which was Lincoln Riley’s first year as OU’s offensive coordinator.
Since the start of the 2015 season, OU ranks first nationally in passing efficiency rating (187.7; next closest is 163.7), completion percentage (69.4), points per game (44.2) and total offense (555.5) and is sixth in passing offense (330.1; fifth in Power Five) and 18th in rushing offense (225.4; ninth in Power 5).
In 40 games since the start of the 2015 season, OU has registered at least 500 yards of total offense 29 times, including in 19 of the last 24 outings, topped the 600-yard mark on 14 occasions and gone over 700 yards four times. Similarly, OU has scored at least 30 points in 35 of 40 games during the Riley regime, at least 40 points 26 times, at least 50 points 15 times and at least 60 points five times.
ANOTHER STRONG NON-CONFERENCE SLATE
The Sooners’ 2018 non-conference schedule figures to be a challenging one despite the fact that all three games will be played in Norman. Florida Atlantic (11-3), UCLA (6-7) and Army (10-3) combined for a 27-13 (.675) record last season, and all three played in a bowl game (Florida Atlantic and Army won).
UCLA is under the direction of first-year head coach Chip Kelly, who led Oregon to a 46-7 record (33-3 in conference play) and three Pac-10/12 titles (2009-11) before coaching four years in the NFL with the Philadelphia Eagles and San Francisco 49ers.
Army, which led the FBS last year with its 362.3 rushing yards per game, won eight of its last nine contests, including its Armed Forces Bowl matchup against San Diego State, 42-35.
RARE SEVEN HOME GAMES
Oklahoma will play seven home games this year for the first time since 2007, as all three of its non-conference contests will be held at Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. The Sooners have played six home games each of the past 10 years and in 13 of the last 14.
OU will be the visiting team just four times in 2018, as it will be the designated home squad for the Red River Showdown against Texas at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas on Oct. 6.
Oklahoma committed just 13 turnovers last year (six interceptions and seven fumbles lost), or less than one per game. That was good for the second-lowest total in program history (11 in 2008).
The Sooners have won 25 of their last 26 games against Big 12 Conference opponents. Fifteen of those 25 victories have been by at least 15 points (seven by at least 35 points).
OU is the only program to win three straight Big 12 titles, and has done so twice (2006-08 and 2015-17). The last FBS program to win four straight outright league titles was Florida (1993-96).
Oklahoma, Alabama and Clemson have all finished in the final AP top 5 each of the past three seasons.