Friday Night Spotlight – Oklahoma Sooners vs West Virginia Mountaineers

As indicated in my look at the Power Five conference championship games, the game between the Oklahoma Sooners and the West Virginia Mountaineers will determine who plays in the Big 12 Championship game next Friday.

Now that Texas has defeated Kansas, the winner of this game will be the top seed in the conference title game. Luckily for us, it is easy to compare the seasons of both teams because they have eight opponents in common due to the Big 12 conference teams all playing each other this season.*

*Note: Despite it being called the Big 12, the conference has only 10 teams, but kept the name after the last conference realignment because of branding issues. This is the same reason the Big Ten conference is thus named, even though they have 14 teams.

Big 12 Play

Oklahoma has only lost one conference game this season, and it’s going to cost them should they lose to the Mountaineers. The Sooners lost to Texas by three points on October 6th in the Red River Showdown, which gives Texas the head-to-head tiebreaker.

West Virginia, on the other hand, has two conference losses: a 16-point loss to Iowa State and a 4-point loss to Oklahoma State. They need to beat Oklahoma to have any chance to make it to the Big 12 Championship.

So Many Points…

If we take a look at the point differential in each team’s Big 12 games this season, we can get an idea of what the game might look like:

OpponentOklahomaWest Virginia
Baylor Bears+33+44
Iowa State Cyclones+10-16
Kansas Jayhawks+15+16
Kansas State Wildcats+37+29
Oklahoma State Cowboys+1-4
TCU Horned Frogs+25+37
Texas Longhorns-3+1
Texas Tech Red Raiders+5+8

As you can see, the teams had pretty much the same results. They blew out the same teams (Baylor, Kansas State, & TCU), while also playing the same teams close. Oklahoma’s margin of victory per game was one point higher (15.3 to 14.3), which may matter if they are in the running for a NY6 bowl game if they don’t win the conference title. Oklahoma also scored more points overall in conference play (405, an average of 50.6 per game) but they also gave up more points (282, 35.3), which could be a negative.

Defense Wins Championships… Except in the Big 12

West Virginia wasn’t a paragon of defense either, but compared to Oklahoma, they look much more competent. In Big 12 games, they held opponents to an average of 25.3 points a game, which is ten points better than the Sooners. This also means that they didn’t have to score nearly as much to win their six games, only averaging 39.6 points per game in conference play. The Iowa State loss doesn’t look nearly as bad as it did when it happened, especially since it looks like Iowa State will finish the season one game out of the mix for a conference championship berth – if they can manage to beat Kansas State tonight.

It’s hard to evaluate Oklahoma purely on the numbers. Do they have to score a lot of points to win because their defense is so poor? Or is their defense able to play a little looser because they know the offense will be scoring so much? It’s probably a combination of the two, but six of their eight Big 12 opponents exceeded their scoring average on the season against the Oklahoma defense (West Virginia isn’t much better here, with five teams doing the same).

Home Field Advantage?

Since the game is going to be played in Morgantown, we should look to see how the Mountaineers have fared at home this season. Both their losses came on the road, so the Mountaineers are undefeated (5-0) at home this season. Oklahoma’s lone loss was technically a neutral site game (it was played at the Cotton Bowl, which is not Texas’ home stadium), so they enter the game 3-0 on the road (aside: how do they only have three road games?), so one team’s undefeated streak will end with the game.

I’d give the slight edge to West Virginia in this one, if only because the game is at home. However, Oklahoma seems to be able to score on everyone this season; they’ve averaged 49.5 points per game in all games this season, and their lowest output was 28 points in a near-loss to Army that required overtime.

West Virginia’s low output was 14 points in the loss to Iowa State, but otherwise they’ve scored a respectable 40.9 points per game, with a defense that has allowed seven fewer points per game (23.3) than Oklahoma.

No matter how you look at it, there’s going to be a lot of points in this one, so expect a shootout. It is the Big 12, after all.

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