By Cam Huffman
Editor’s note: This is the latest in a series profiling WVU’s football opponents for the 2012 season.
The Oklahoma game is the one Mountaineer fans have had circled on their calendars since the Big 12 schedule was released.
The Sooners were the only team picked to finish ahead of WVU in the league’s preseason poll, and OU came in at No. 4 nationally in the USA Today Preseason Coaches’ Poll.
Oklahoma is also probably the Big 12 member with which the Mountaineers have the most history. The teams have met just four times over the years, but the last two have been quite memorable.
The first Sooner-Mountaineer showdown came in 1958, when WVU made the trip to Owen Field to face the Sooners and came home with its heads down after a 47-14 thrashing. It wasn’t much different in 1978, when WVU left Norman, Okla., after a 52-10 beating, but the Mountaineers found some revenge in 1982.
WVU was a huge underdog in that season opener against the No. 9 Sooners, and it looked like Las Vegas was right when the Mountaineers fell behind 14-0 early. But Penn State transfer Jeff Hostetler brought his team back as WVU scored the next 20 points.
Don Nehlen’s Mountaineers dominated the rest of the game, winning 41-27 as Hostetler, who would later become Nehlen’s son-in-law, threw for 321 yards and four touchdowns.
The next meeting between the two was equally enjoyable for WVU fans.
The 2008 Fiesta Bowl put a surging Oklahoma team, ranked No. 3 in the country and thought by many to be college football’s best team after winning the Big 12 championship over previously undefeated Missouri, against a reeling Mountaineer squad that had lost its chance to play for a national championship with a loss to unranked Pitt to end the season and then saw its head coach, Rich Rodriguez, leave for Michigan.
Interim head coach Bill Stewart, though, found some way to rally his Mountaineers in the desert, and WVU, a touchdown underdog, dominated future Heisman trophy winner Sam Bradford and head coach Bob Stoops’ crew from beginning to end, winning 48-28 and evening the all-time series between the two schools.
This year’s matchup, which will take place Nov. 17 in Morgantown, is the hottest ticket in the Mountain State.
Oklahoma returns the bulk of its talent from a 2011 team that finished 10-3 and ranked No. 16 in the final Associated Press Poll of the season.
On offense, everything starts with quarterback Landry Jones, who decided to return for his senior season, despite plenty of interest from NFL squads. The school’s all-time passing leader, Jones threw for nearly 4,500 yards last year, tossing 29 touchdowns compared to 15 interceptions.
There is some concern about who will be catching Jones’ passes. Oklahoma lost one of its top threats, Ryan Broyles, to graduation and then watched as Trey Franks, Kameel Jackson and Jaz Reynolds were suspended. Jackson was later dismissed from the program. The others are still on the roster, but their status remains in question, leaving the Sooners a little thin at the receiver spot.
Oklahoma was able to land a Penn State transfer in senior Justin Brown, who will be eligible to play immediately because of the NCAA’s ruling on the Nittany Lions, and he’ll have to make an impact. The other top targets are likely to be junior Kenny Stills and freshman Trey Metoyer.
The Sooners also got some bad preseason news on the offensive line, where All-Big 12 center Ben Habern had to give up the game after multiple injuries. That was a huge blow to a line that was only going to have to replace one starter from a unit that improved as the season progressed in 2011.
The running game will be led by Dominic Whaley, who’s returning from an ankle injury, but he’ll have plenty of help with Roy Finch, Brennan Clay and junior college transfer Damien Williams, all expected to contribute.
The big news on defense is the return of Mike Stoops, who reunited with his brother after losing his job as head coach at Arizona. Mike was the architect of some of the Sooners’ best defenses in the early 2000s, and after a couple of shaky seasons on that side of the ball, Sooner fans are thrilled to have him back.
Up front, OU is stacked in the middle with three returning starters and talented tackle Jordan Phillips joining the mix. David King is strong on the outside, but the Sooners are looking for a little more depth from the defensive end position.
The linebacking corps is young and unproven, and the secondary has been shuffled a great deal to try to slow down opponents’ passing attacks. The two starting corners of Aaron Colvin and Demontre Hurst are as good as you’ll find anywhere in the Big 12.
Since winning a national championship in 2000, Oklahoma has finished lower in the postseason polls than in the preseason polls in nine of 11 seasons. Sooner fans are hoping this year is different.