Oklahoma vs. West Virginia: The Top 10 Impact Players to Watch
Before the start of the season, Oklahoma and West Virginia were being talked about as the top contenders in the Big 12. Their mid-November showdown in Morgantown is a game that true college football fans had circled on their calendar. Many thought that it would be a matchup that would decide the conference champion.
Obviously, things didn’t play out as expected. Neither team has lived up to its lofty preseason ranking.
After starting out 5-0, West Virginia has faltered in recent weeks, losing four straight. Oklahoma, on the other hand, saw its national championship hopes vanish following losses to Kansas State and Notre Dame.
While this game doesn’t have the importance that many were anticipating, it’s still a showdown that has the chance to be highly entertaining if both teams play to their potential.
These are two of the nation's most powerful offenses, averaging a combined 80 points per game, which means this game has the potential to turn into a high-scoring shootout.
There will certainly be plenty of elite talent on display on both sides. Here’s a look at the 10 players who will have the biggest effect on the game.
1. West Virginia QB Geno Smith
Geno Smith was college football's star of September. In his first five games, he put up passing numbers that were basically unheard of. However, after being touted as the early Heisman front-runner, the senior signal-caller has dropped out of the race following West Virginia's four straight losses.
In his last four games, Smith has not shown the type of accuracy, confidence and instinctive decision-making that we saw from him in the first month of the season. Still, he has continued to put up huge numbers in Dana Holgorsen's pass-heavy scheme. He's completed 71 percent of his passes for more than 3,000 yards and thrown 31 touchdowns compared to just three interceptions.
When Smith is playing at his best, and when he's in a groove, there's not another quarterback in college football who can compare to him.
The question is, which player will we see against Oklahoma, the quarterback that set the college football world on fire in the first few weeks of the season, or the one that's struggled to find his consistency in the last four games?
Obviously, the Mountaineers will need the good Geno to show up if they want to have a chance to upset the Sooners.
2. West Virginia WR Tavon Austin
Tavon Austin was the most productive player in the country last season, leading the nation with 2,574 all-purpose yards. Once again, Austin has been a highly productive and versatile playmaker for West Virginia. He's averaging 194 all-purpose yards per game, which is the fifth-highest average in the nation.
The senior speedster is truly one of the most dynamic and explosive weapons in college football. He's the type of player who can cause major damage any time he gets the ball, whether it's as a receiver, a returner or as a runner out of the backfield.
Austin is capable of creating huge home run-type plays, which is why Oklahoma better know where No. 1 is at all times.
3. Oklahoma QB Landry Jones
Landry Jones has been one of the most productive passers in college football since taking over the starting job at Oklahoma for an injured Sam Bradford early in the 2009 season.
Jones put up outstanding passing numbers in his first three seasons, throwing for more than 12,000 yards and 93 touchdowns. The 6'4'', 218-pound senior has once again put up some of the best passing totals in the nation in 2012. He's completed 65 percent of his passes for 2,691 yards and 18 touchdowns.
Although he may not possess a true rocket for an arm, Jones knows how to pick apart a defense and get the ball to an open receiver.
The key for West Virginia will be to get a consistent pass rush on Jones early in the game and make him feel jittery and uncomfortable in the pocket. If the Mountaineers can rattle him, the Sooner signal-caller may start to force passes, which could lead to a momentum-changing interception.
4. Oklahoma FS Tony Jefferson
If you're going to have a debate about which player is the best safety in college football, you better include Oklahoma's Tony Jefferson in the conversation.
Jefferson is the best defensive back the Sooners have had since Roy Williams left Norman after the 2001 season. This year, the ball-hawking free safety has solidified his status as one of the top defensive players in college football.
The 5'11'', 212-pound junior leads the team with 79 tackles, including 59 solo stops, and he's picked off two passes and broken up another two throws.
The athletic, instinctive and physical playmaker is the type of standout safety who is capable of making a game-changing play at any time.
5. West Virginia WR Stedman Bailey
You can tell that Stedman Bailey and Geno Smith have formed a special bond, which dates back to their time spent as teammates at Florida's Miramar High School.
Smith loves to look for his favorite receiving target every chance he gets, which is to be expected considering how often Bailey gets open.
Following a breakout sophomore campaign in 2011, in which he averaged 17 yards per catch and hauled in 12 touchdown passes, Bailey has taken his game to another level this season. The explosive playmaker has 75 receptions for 1,055 yards and leads the nation with 16 touchdown catches.
Bailey may not get the same type of national publicity as fellow receiver Tavon Austin, but he's just as dangerous and just as capable of embarrassing a defense.
6. Oklahoma RB Damien Williams
Oklahoma doesn't run the ball very often. The Sooners average just 34 rushing attempts per game, which ranks 101st in the nation. However, when they do run the ball, they run it effectively, averaging 5.1 yards per carry.
The key to the successful rushing attack has been the play of junior-college transfer Damien Williams.
This season, Williams has averaged more than six yards on 113 total touches and scored nine touchdowns. He's also caught 18 passes for 195 yards.
The 6'0'', 208-pound junior possess an outstanding combination of power and explosiveness, and he's the type of back who can break a big run any time he gets the ball in his hands.
7. Oklahoma WR Kenny Stills
Now that Ryan Broyles is gone, Kenny Stills has embraced his role as Oklahoma's go-to wide receiver. Stills has hauled in 54 passes for 687 yards and six touchdowns in just nine games.
The 6'1'', 190-pound junior may not be the most physical or strongest receiver in the country, but he has outstanding speed and the type of burst to create explosive plays.
Stills is a reliable target who has gained the trust of QB Landry Jones because of his sure hands and his ability to constantly find holes in coverage.
He's the type of dangerous down-the-field threat who could cause a lot of problems for West Virginia's shaky secondary.
8. West Virginia LB Isaiah Bruce
West Virginia's defense has had a rough season. The Mountaineers rank 112th in the nation in total defense and 121st in scoring defense, allowing 41 points and 478 yards per game.
While the unit as a whole has been a big disappointment, one defender who certainly hasn't disappointed is linebacker Isaiah Bruce.
After taking a redshirt last year, Bruce has developed into an instant defensive leader during his first season on the field. He's been one of the top freshman defensive players in the country.
The 6'1'', 225-pound inside linebacker leads the team with 80 tackles, including 47 solo stops and six tackles for loss, and he's also picked off a pass and returned a fumble for a touchdown.
Bruce has proven to be the true linchpin of the defense in the middle of the field. The Mountaineers are definitely going to need him to be active against Oklahoma against the run and in pass coverage.
9. Oklahoma Center Gabe Ikard
Oklahoma's offensive line lost three key veterans this offseason when Donald Stephenson departed for the NFL and Trey Evans and Ben Habern were lost to injuries. Luckily, the Sooners have one of the best interior lineman in the country, center Gabe Ikard, who has kept the line together.
Ikard has been the undisputed leader in the trenches for Oklahoma's offense, as he's handled his switch from guard to center without a problem.
The 6'3'', 288-pound junior is a strong, agile and intelligent lineman who excels blocking for the run and the pass. He certainly has a future playing on Sundays.
Although Ikard missed last week's game against Baylor due to a head injury, he's been cleared to play and should be ready to go against West Virginia.
10. Oklahoma DT Jamarkus McFarland
West Virginia won't have an easy time trying to establish a running game against Oklahoma's defense. That's because the Sooners have one of the nation's best defensive tackle trios in Jamarkus McFarland, Casey Walker and Stacy McGee.
McFarland is the leader of the group, and he's one of the most disruptive interior defensive linemen in the Big 12. The 6'2'', 288-pound senior is tough to block one on one because of an impressive combination of agility, power and toughness.
This season, McFarland has racked up 11 solo tackles, four tackles for loss, three sacks, and he's even picked off a pass.
West Virginia's offensive line better come ready to play. If it doesn't, the Mountaineers will get embarrassed at the line of scrimmage.