Week 5 Saturday Six-Pack: Conference Play Heats Up



Kickoff: 12 noon ET/9 a.m. PT

TV: Fox Sports 1

Las Vegas Line: Oklahoma -7

Other games on the Week 5 docket might garner more national attention, but this might be the contest that most intrigues me.

In certain ways, West Virginia and Oklahoma mirror one another. Oklahoma’s addition of Lincoln Riley as offensive coordinator in the offseason gives the Sooners a look very much like that of West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen’s offense. That’s not exactly a coincidence; Riley cut his coaching teeth at Texas Tech working alongside Holgorsen.

Holgorsen said on this week’s Big 12 teleconference call the two “spent an awful lot of time together,” adding Riley’s wife was nanny to Holgorsen’s children for a time.

Both Oklahoma and West Virginia have dual-threates quarterbacks who are on my own Heisman radar — Skyler Howard and Baker Mayfield — and either could rise in the national ranks as the Big 12 season unfolds, starting this week.

Both have multifaceted backfields: West Virginia rolls with Rushel Shell and Wendell Smallwood, Oklahoma with Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine.

West Virginia’s play through three games has certainly piqued my interest. The Mountaineers’ wins may not be the sexiest on paper, but the way in which they won commands attention.

To complete shut out Georgia Southern’s typically prolific option offense Week 1 might be the low-key most impressive defensive showing of the season’s first month. Karl Joseph snagged almost as many picks in that one game as the Eagles threw all of 2014.

It’s remarkable just how profoundly Tony Gibson’s turned around this West Virginia defense, but Saturday promises to test the full extent of the Mountaineers’ improvement with Oklahoma coming in sporting a robust, 41.3-point per game average.

Sooner-Mountaineer matchups have been consistently close since West Virginia joined the Big 12 in 2012, with three games decided by a combined 22 points. I expect Saturday’s encounter to be no different, save one key facet: Oklahoma won all three of those games.

I like West Virginia’s turnover-heavy defense to make enough plays against the gunslinger Mayfield, particularly safety Karl Joseph, to score the Mountaineers an attention-commanding win.