It’s a fairly easy call to pick out the spotlight game this week in the Big 12. It’s the only matchup of two ranked teams. Oklahoma, ranked 14th in the nation this week in the Associated Press media poll (12th in the USA Today coaches’ poll) and 22nd-ranked Notre Dame (21st in the USA Today poll), two of college football’s biggest marquee names all-time, meet in South Bend, Ind. on Saturday in a rematch of last season’s 30-13 Notre Dame win at OU.
As legendary as these two storied programs are, they have met on the football field just 10 times in history, nine of them Notre Dame victories, The lone Oklahoma win came in 1956 at Notre Dame, a 45-0 victory by the Sooner team that went on to win its second consecutive national championship that season and third in a six-year span.
Oklahoma and Notre Dame have 15 national championships between them in football (eight for Notre Dame and seven for Oklahoma). Only Alabama, with 10, has more national titles that Notre Dame and OU, which rank second and third, respectively, since 1940.
Probably the most remembered game in the series came in 1957, when the Fighting Irish, led by All-American quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner Paul Hornung, posted an historic 7-0 road win over the Sooners, ending OU’s incredible 47-game winning streak, still the longest ever in college football.
This will be the Sooners’ first visit to Sound Bend in 14 years. OU lost to Notre Dame 34-30 in 1999 in Bob Stoops’ first season as Oklahoma’s head coach.
In the game a year ago at Oklahoma, both teams were ranked in the top 10 to start the game, and the game was tied at 13-all with just over eight minutes remaining. Notre Dame then ran off 17 straight unanswered points in the final eight minutes to break open a close game and win going away. The Fighting Irish, led by their All-American linebacker Manti Te’o, held the high-powered Sooner offense to 379 total yards and outrushed Oklahoma by 200 yards, 215 to 15.
Many of the big names in last season’s game are now gone or won’t be playing in the game on Saturday. Most notably, both teams will feature different starters at quarterback. Instead of Everett Golson for the Irish and Landry Jones for Oklahoma, senior Tommy Rees will be calling the signals at quarterback for Notre Dame on Saturday and junior Blake Bell for the Sooners.
Neither team is necessarily setting the world on fire this season on the offensive side. The Sooners are averaging 490 yards of offense in thr first three games, which ranks 32nd in the nation, while Notre Dame is averaging 451 yards a game, 50th best in the country, after four games. The biggest difference at this point in the season appears to be on defense. A year ago, it was the Fighting Irish defense, especially thr front seven, who got the better of the offensive-defensive matchup.
So far this season, the Oklahoma defense appears to be playing much more physical and much better than the OU “D” has performed the previous couple of years. That is an important plus for the Sooners going into this year’s game.
Notre Dame is getting most of its yardage on offense this season through the air, which is a bit of a departure from last season’s Fighting Irish team, which liked to pound it on the ground, using the pass as a secondary weapon. It is just the reverse in 2013, as Notre Dame is averaging 326 passing yards out of its 451 yards of total offense, and Rees is connecting on 60 percent of his passes. This will present a big challenge for OU’s very young secondary that has only one starter returning from last season: cornerback Aaron Colvin.
A couple of interesting story lines to keep in mind for this game: Oklahoma is 35-3 under head coach Bob Stoops when scoring 30 points or more. Notre Dame is 1-7 under coach Brian Kelly when it gives up 30 or more points to its opponent. The Sooners have outscored opponents 40-0 in the second quarter this season. The Fighting Irish have been outscored 43-37 in the first half through their first four games.
Notre Dame has been nearly invincible against Big 12 opponents. The Fighting Irish are 28-4-1 all-time against teams currently in the Big 12. Their last loss to a Big 12 team was to Texas, 21-17, in the 1970 Cotton Bowl. Joe Theismann was the Notre Dame quarterback in that game.
Saturday’s game between Oklahoma and Notre Dame should be dominated by the defenses and should be a relatively low-scoring game. Whichever team manages to move the ball best on offense, sustain drives and avoid turnovers, thus keeping its defense resting on the sidelines and the other team’s offense off the field, is likely to win this game. Special teams play also will be a key in creating good field position on offense and, conversely, bad field position for the opposing team’s offense.
Both teams are loaded with talent, but I believe Oklahoma’s offensive weapons are superior to Notre Dame’s, and OU’s improved defense will be the difference maker in the game.
Game Prediction: Oklahoma 24, Notre Dame 20
Other Big 12 Picks in Week 5
Iowa State 17 @ Tulsa 27 (Thursday night) – Home field gives Tulsa the advantage and makes Cyclones a road dog and destined for third straight loss.
Oklahoma State 45 @ West Virginia 13 – If the same West Virginia team shows up that played Maryland, and not the one thatnarrowly lost at OU, this game will be over by the second quarter.
SMU 20 @ TCU 38 - Look for TCU, a preseason contender for the 2013 Big 12 crown, to rebound from Texas Tech loss in a big way
Last week: 4-1
For the season: 24-6