After a 9-3 regular season, Florida State is back bowling with a chance to reach double-digit wins for the first time since 2016. The thirteenth-ranked Noles will face the 6-6 Oklahoma Sooners from the Big 12 in the Cheez-it bowl on Thursday December 29th inside Camping World Stadium.
When 9-3 FSU got paired up against a 6-6 team some thought of it as a letdown for FSU, but I think this is a fun matchup between two heavyweight college football brands. There is history between the two programs with 7 all-time meetings including a BCS title game. There’s also history with now Oklahoma HC Brent Venables from his time at Clemson. Just when FSU fans thought they were done with Venables here we go again…
This tickets for this game have been in high demand and both fan bases travel well. The Marching Chiefs will be on hand as will Osceola and Renegade and the Sooner schooner so it should be a fun atmosphere. With FSU in their backyard, one would imagine they should have a crowd advantage.
On paper, this is an interesting game. The two offenses are almost identical in production and rankings. The defenses are another story with a decided advantage going toward FSU. However, Oklahoma played in a tough Big 12 this year and faced a lot of good offenses which has to be taken into context rather than simply looking at their 6-6 record.
Perhaps one of the biggest factors in this game are the opt-outs for Oklahoma and the lack thereof for FSU. Oklahoma will be without three All-Big 12 players on offense and another important piece on the defensive line. Whereas FSU is basically at full capacity. Let’s preview how these two teams matchup and then wrap up with a prediction.
UCF transfer quarterback Dillon Gabriel leads the Sooner offense which has been their strength this season. Gabriel is a good college quarterback and by the end of the bowl will likely have eclipsed 3,000 yards for the third time in four seasons.
He’s also a critical part of their offense and his ability keeps them in games despite the defensive struggles. Just how important you ask? When he missed the Texas game, Oklahoma lost 49-0 and only managed to put up 195 total yards which is less than half of their season average.
Gabriel has some very capable targets to throw to including a thousand-yard receiver in Marvin Mims Jr and a productive tight end with over 450 yards this season. However, he will be without wide receiver Theo Wease who is averaging almost 20 yards per catch!
As for the Sooners’ ground game, they come into this matchup with a top-15 rushing offense averaging over 200 yards per game. Unfortunately for the Sooners, their leading rusher Eric Gray who’s responsible for over 50% of their rushing production has opted out of this game. To make matters worse for Oklahoma, both of their All-Conference tackles have opted out too.
The Sooners will likely turn to Javontae Barnes and Marcus Major who are not bad backs but both average under 5 yards per carry versus the 6.5 from Gray.
Another big impact of being down both starting tackles is how well they’ll be able to keep Gabriel clean in the pocket. So far this season, Gabriel has been one of the better-protected quarterbacks with a pressure rate of only 20.9%. When kept clean, Gabriel’s numbers are stellar but under pressure those numbers fall off a cliff. Here’s the comparison of his numbers between being kept clean and under pressure in our passer profile.
If FSU is able to pressure Gabriel they can have success against this passing attack. Gabriel has been good against the blitz this season, but with both offensive tackles out FSU may not need to devote too many resources to getting pressure. This is where Jared Verse opting to play in the bowl game could be a game-changer for FSU.
The only defense Oklahoma faced this season that’s statically ranked higher than FSU is Iowa State. They held the Sooners to 27 points and 332 yards (115 of those coming from Eric Gray). The FSU defense hasn’t been perfect this season, but they have played really well. When also factoring in the opt-outs I could see them holding OU in the low twenties which feels like enough to win.
The Oklahoma defense has been a different story. They are near the bottom in almost every category aside from interceptions. This comes as a bit of a surprise with one of the best defensive coordinators in the country as their head coach.
However, it’s a lot different when you don’t have a roster full of future NFL draft picks as Venables did at Clemson. It’s only year one for the new head man so I’m sure they will get better with time and recruiting. As I mentioned, the Sooners are top 10 in interceptions and have an edge over FSU in turnover margin at +6 vs +2 so it will be key for FSU to focus on ball security.
The Sooners have been good at creating pressure but struggled to turn that into sacks with only 26 on the season. They will also be without impact defensive lineman Jalen Redmond who opted out for this game. Redmond was responsible for 18 pressures and 4 sacks this season and was also good against the run with a 74.8 rush-defense grade per PFF.
Speaking of run defense, The Sooners rank 107th in the country giving up an average of 189 yards per game. This should be something FSU, a team that’s rushed for over 200 yards in seven consecutive games, should be able to exploit. If Oklahoma decides to sell out to stop the run their 108th-ranked passing defense which allows an average of 262 yards per game could have a long day. Jordan Travis is having an exceptional year and should have his full arsenal of receivers in this game. The balance of strength in both the running and passing game for Florida State is something that presents a unique challenge for defenses.
The Oklahoma defense has faced some tough competition this season with seven of their opponents having a top-50 offense. However, the Florida State offense is also battle-tested after facing 6 top 50 defenses this season. My point is, knowing the number of tough offenses the OU defense has had to face their defense may not be as bad as the numbers make them look. They also aren’t going to get any slack from an offense that has performed well against some tough defenses.
Oklahoma is allowing an average of 33.9 points per game against Power 5 opponents. FSU has scored an average of 43.6 points per game over the course of the 5-game winning streak they are currently on. Oklahoma will also be without a starting impact defensive lineman and two depth players in the secondary. With that, I’d like to think FSU could score around 35-40 points in this game.
There are many paths to victory and honestly, as long as FSU secures that tenth win it doesn’t matter which one they take to get there. However, here are three keys I feel if the Noles take care of they will return to Tallahassee with a win and potentially in dominating fashion.
On paper, FSU should win this game by having a much better defense. They are also playing closer to home and won’t be as impacted by crucial opt-outs. However, I don’t expect Oklahoma to just lay down and let FSU take its lunch money. Gabriel is a good quarterback and still has weapons to work with. Venables is familiar with FSU and has had success against them in the past. This game has the potential to be better than some expect but I still think FSU gets it done.
I would have picked FSU before the opt-outs for Oklahoma but with them, it seems like an obvious choice. I just think those missing pieces on offense are going to be too much to overcome for the Sooners. How well will they be able to fend off Jared Verse with a freshman tackle who has played less than 70 snaps this season? Can they replace the production they got from Eric Gray? FSU doesn’t have to answer those same questions.
Oklahoma is 94th at giving up plays of 20-plus yards and FSU is second in the country at creating them. Oklahoma has been terrible against the run whereas FSU has been one of the best rushing teams in the country.
There are too many advantages that lean in favor of the Noles so I’m taking FSU over the Sooners 45-20 to get their tenth win of the season and add to the momentum they are carrying into 2023. Thanks, and Go Noles!
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