Whenever the Canes hooked up with Oklahoma when I was a kid, it was one of the most exciting games to get up for -- right up there with Notre Dame, Florida State, Penn State and the hated Gators.
But a lot has changed since the Brian Bosworth-Vinny Testaverde days. The Sooners don't run the wishbone anymore and Miami doesn't play the kind of defense it used to. Tonight's game will pit an eight-ranked Sooners team that has one of the best defensive front sevens in the country and a do it all offense (even with redshirt freshman quarterback Landry Jones at the helm) against a UM team looking to bounce back from an embarrassing loss at Virginia Tech.
Before the season started, I expected Miami to go 2-2 against its tough opening four-game stretch. I thought that would be good enough to show us this team has improved. But the closer we get to kickoff, the more I see this game as a giant measuring stick for Randy Shannon and his staff. This is year No. 3 and its time for UM to start showing signs it can really compete against the nation's elite teams. I know they're shorthanded on defense (safety, defensive end). But it feels like crunch time to me.
REWIND: UM owned the Sooners back in the 1980s when both teams were regular national title contenders. Their 2007 meeting in Norman was good for a half before the Sooners pulled away 51-13.
> UM wins because: Jacory Harris plays like a Heisman candidate again and LandShark Stadium rocks like the Orange Bowl. That means UM's offensive line plays lights out and protects Harris and his receivers don't drop balls like they did last week. Defensively, UM is going to be hard pressed to shutdown Oklahoma's balanced offense. But the key for the Canes will be eliminating big, deflating plays and creating a few turnovers to slow the Sooners down at least a little.
> OU wins because: Quarterback Landry Jones doesn't make mistakes and the Sooners don't have breakdowns in the secondary. Pound-for-pound, Oklahoma is the better team in this matchup. The only place UM really has the advantage is at quarterback and receiver. That means unless the Canes outplay them or OU makes a few gaffs, the Sooner should win this.
> My pick: Oklahoma 30, UM 21. Last week, I picked with my heart. I really was beginning to believe Miami had something special going. They still could if they win tonight. But what Virginia Tech did was unmask a lot of the Canes' deficiencies. Like it or not, the Canes' offensive line -- and running game -- still has a long way to go. The defense has to prove it can do the basics -- like tackling -- consistently. Those aren't the type of troubles a team about to beat a Top 10 ranked team has to deal with. Then again, here's to hoping I'm dead wrong.
> Game balls - Offense: Jacory Harris. If UM's going to win, he'll be the triggerman. Defense: Eric Moncur. If the UM defense is going to surprise us tonight, create turnovers and turn the tables, the key will be getting pressure on Jones. It would be nice to see a kid like Moncur provide a lot of that. Special teams: Matt Bosher. He's missed a pair of field goals against Georgia Tech and had a punt blocked last week. A game-winning field goal would be nice wouldn't it?
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