In a Big 12 battle between two undefeated teams, the unranked road underdog with the improved defense could have the edge when West Virginia visits 15th ranked Oklahoma.
In the Big 12 Conference opener for both teams Saturday, the unranked West Virginia Mountaineers (3-0, 2-1 ATS) look like dangerous underdogs getting nearly a touchdown with a much improved defense as they pay a visit to the 15th ranked Oklahoma Sooners (3-0, 2-1 ATS) at Oklahoma Memorial Stadium in Norman, OK at 12:00 Noon ET in a game televised nationally on FOX Sports 1.
The point spread at Pinnacle Sports has West Virginia as a decided underdog for this contest with the current line at +6½ with odds of -104.
Nasty Defense for Mountaineers
West Virginia has always relied on offense since their offensive-minded head coach Dana Holgorsen took over the job, but an improved defense has keyed the Mountaineers being the winning college football picks in their first three games as they lead the country in scoring defense allowing 7.7 points per game and rank 26th in total defense yielding 307.3 yards per contest.
Yes, West Virginia opened up with a pair of cupcakes in Georgia Southern and Liberty of the FCS, but the Mountaineers then routed Maryland of the ACC 45-6 last week while allowing just 326 total yards.
Oklahoma is also 3-0 including a statement win at Tennessee, so we have no problem with the Sooners being ranked. With that being said however, their ranking could have them overvalued here vs. a revenge minded underdog that appears to be very capable of at the very least taking this game right down to the wire.
And not only are the Mountaineers playing with revenge but they are playing with triple revenge, going 0-3 vs. the Sooners since joining the Big 12. However, West Virginia did cover the spread while losing 50-49 back home in Morgantown in 2012 and 16-7 here in Norman in 2013, and the Mounties were covering late before losing 45-33 last year as 7½-point home underdogs.
Now though, the talent gap between these teams is the narrowest that it has been since West Virginia joined the league with the defense being the biggest reason why.
That is not to say that the offense has missed a beat, with the Mountaineers averaging 43.3 points and 543.3 total yards per game with great balance, averaging 220.3 rushing yards and 323.0 passing yards. Then again, would you expect anything different from a Holgorsen team? However, that offense now has a great defense to compliment it, especially the linebackers and the secondary.
The Mountaineers are allowing a mere 154.0 passing yards on just 5.6 yards per pass attempt, which makes for a great matchup vs. Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield and his 9.7 yards per attempt. As we almost always do in these cases, we will side with the defense.
Questionable Sooners Defense
The Sooners also grade out well offensively, averaging 41.3 points and 553.3 total yards per game, but their offensive splits play right into the strength of the West Virginia defense, with Oklahoma ranking eighth in the land in passing offense but a more pedestrian 63rd in rushing offense. But the bigger issue we have with Oklahoma is the defense.
You see, the Sooners are just 55th in total defense, 54th in rushing defense and 64th in passing defense, even allowing 603 yards to the Tulsa Golden Hurricane out of the AAC in a 52-38 win last week. If Oklahoma can let an AAC team march up and down the field like that while allowing 38 points, how is it supposed to handle a typically potent and balanced West Virginia offense under Holgorsen?
Coming Up Short vs. Better Teams
Finally, Oklahoma has seemingly been overrated when taking on better teams recently, going 1-5 ATS in its last six games vs. teams with winning records. Meanwhile, West Virginia is 4-1 ATS in their last five games after scoring more than 40 points in its previous game.
While this could very well be an outright upset, we do expect a barn-burner so our recommendation is to take the nearly touchdown point spread with West Virginia visiting Oklahoma in Norman on Saturday.
College Football Pick: West Virginia +6½ (-104)