Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - The Oklahoma Sooners are ranked fourth in the preseason AP Top 25 poll but they will have to work harder than they think to blow away Louisiana Tech on Saturday.
The Bulldogs arrive in Norman off a disappointing 4-8 campaign in Skip Holtz's first year in Ruston. They came into 2013 with just seven returning starters and the inexperience showed early with losses (and failed covers) versus NC State and Tulane. Overall, Louisiana Tech went 4-7 against the spread.
This year will be different as 13 starters come back, including the team's leading rusher and receiver. Furthermore, Cody Sokol, a transfer from Iowa, should pilot the offense to greater heights than Ryan Higgins and Scotty Young achieved last year. Since Oklahoma is favored by over five touchdowns, all Louisiana Tech's offense has to do is score over 14 points and the ATS victory should be in the bag.
Surprisingly, the Sooners are giving so many points to the Bulldogs considering the number of offensive pieces they lost after last season. Gone are the club's top three rushers, as well as top freshman running back Joe Mixon, who was suspended for the season.
As for the passing game, none of Oklahoma's current quarterbacks have the ability to throw for more than four touchdowns a game. (Landry Jones accomplished that feat seven times in his college career.) The Sooners also are without six of eight pass catchers who caught at least nine passes last season, and former Missouri standout Dorial Green-Beckham, who arrived in Norman over the summer, is ineligible this year.
Lousiana Tech's defense returns seven starters and eight of its top 11 tacklers from 2013. Last season's defense allowed more than 35 points just once and that was a unit that came into the year without its top seven tacklers.
This year's group is extremely underrated so look for Oklahoma to score fewer than 40 points. That number doesn't sound too promising for Louisiana Tech, but it is when the Bulldogs are getting 38 points. The spread for this game should be closer to 24.
Take Louisiana Tech plus 38 points in the first of two Five-Star plays.
The second and final Five-Star matchup pits Navy against Ohio State in Baltimore. The line dropped approximately five points once it was announced Braxton Miller would miss the season. However, a lot of money came in on the Buckeyes and they now are favored by close to what they were prior to the news.
Even if Miller were to play, the Midshipmen would have been a solid play. Now, they are a tremendous play since there aren't many teams with better records as an underdog than Navy. Since 2003, the Midshipmen are 34-12 ATS when getting points.
Ken Niumatalolo has done an outstanding job in Annapolis with five seasons of at least eight victories and this year's squad might be his best yet with over 50 returning lettermen and 15 starters.
Ohio State brings in a very inexperienced offense, including a quarterback making his initial start as well as a brand new offensive line. In addition, the Buckeyes lost their top four rushing leaders from 2013.
Defensively, Ohio State's strength is its front seven but not many of its defensive players have squared off against the triple option. In addition, the Buckeyes are without Noah Spence for this contest (suspension), which means five of last year's top seven tacklers will not be present.
These two teams met in Columbus for the 2009 opener and Ohio State won, 31-27. Navy could have tied the game with the two-point conversion after Ricky Dobbs' touchdown run, but his pass was picked off and Brian Rolle returned it to seal the four-point win. This year's Navy team is in much better shape than that season's squad which returned just 10 starters - just four on offense.
Ohio State might not score more than 30 points against a Navy defense that returns 14 of its top 20 tacklers. Don't forget, the Midshipmen held nine of last year's 13 opponents below their scoring average (excluding overtime).
Ohio State should win this contest but the final margin of victory will be by single digits.
Take Navy plus 16.5 points.
Penn State and UCF met last year at Beaver Stadium, where the Knights won, 34-31. Don't expect that many points scored in this year's contest when the two teams meet in Ireland on Saturday. The Nittany Lions have offensive issues with the loss of four starting linemen and wide receiver, Allen Robinson, while UCF is without Blake Bortles and Storm Johnson. Furthermore, the Knights lost three of their five starting linemen.
In last season's contest, Bortles threw three touchdown passes and Johnson ran for over 100 yards with one touchdown. On the other side, Robinson caught nine balls for 143 yards and one score. With all of those stars not playing this year, along with seven of the 10 starting linemen, the likelihood of both teams coming any close to 65 total points is extremely slim.
This year, both squads are strong defensively. Penn State brings back 10 of its top 14 tacklers. (Last year, the Lions returned just five of their top 11 tacklers.) Meanwhile, UCF returns 16 of its top 18 tacklers after bringing back only three of its top 10 in 2013.
Look for a low-scoring affair with the final total coming under the number.
Take under 46.5 points.
Take Boise State +11 (Ole Miss), Colorado State +3 (Colorado), Virginia +21 (UCLA), Troy +2.5 (UAB), Florida -36.5 (Idaho), NC State -20.5 (Ga Southern), Fresno State +22 (USC), SMU +33 (Baylor) and Louisville -3.5 (Miami-Fla).
Take ULM -2 (Wake Forest), Temple +13.5 (Vanderbilt), over 61.5 in Bowling Green-Western Ky, Connecticut +16.5 (BYU), UTSA +10.5 (Houston), Arkansas +19 (Auburn), Texas-El Paso +8 (New Mexico) and over 66.5.
LAST YEAR'S RECORD
The 2013 record stood at 92-83-3 for a 53 percent winning percentage. The breakdown by star system is as follows: five-star plays came in at 12-8, three-star selections were 22-19-1, two-star picks went 37-32 and one-star choices came in at 21-24-1.
JEFF FRANK'S PRESEASON DIRTY DOZEN
1) Florida State, 104; 2) Alabama, 102; 3) Oregon, 100; 4) UCLA, 97; 5) Michigan State, 96.5; 6-T) Auburn, Georgia and Oklahoma, 96; 9-T) Baylor, LSU, USC and Stanford, 94.
Here is last season's final Dirty Dozen:
1) Florida State, 114.5; 2) Oregon, 104.5; 3) Alabama, 104; 4) Auburn, 102,5; 5) Stanford, 102; 6) Michigan State, 101.5; 7-T) Oklahoma and Baylor, 100.5; 9) South Carolina, 100; 10-T) Clemson, Missouri and Oklahoma State, 99.5
(The Dirty Dozen is not a reflection of a given team's won-loss record. It is based on power ratings used to predict spreads for the upcoming week. At the beginning of the season, all FBS teams are assigned a power number, which changes on a week-to-week basis depending on the results of the previous week).