NORMAN, Okla. -- You’ve waited eight months for this.
There's a combination of excitement and unease among Sooner Nation as Oklahoma hosts Louisiana-Monroe at 6 p.m. (CT) on Saturday, as the season finally gets underway following a disappointing 10-3 campaign in 2012.
Here are three storylines, three players to watch, one reason for concern and a prediction:
Everyone is interested to see what Trevor Knight can do. The Sooners’ starting quarterback has never played in a college game yet already has lofty expectations. Teammates rave about his ability to fit the ball into tight spaces but will those risks turn into turnovers at game speed? Or will the freshman phenom just find a way to make plays?
A chance to see how will the defense look this season. After stumbling down the stretch of the 2012 season, defensive coordinator Mike Stoops has made the defense more versatile, but how much of that transformation will we see on Saturday? There’s been plenty of talk of three-man fronts, but it’s quite possible the Sooners keep it simple this weekend.
How will the Sooners use their linebackers? OU must utilize its linebackers better this season. The Sooners went away from using their linebackers in 2012, yet they've vowed to put them on the field more in 2013. It will be hard to live up to that if Corey Nelson, Frank Shannon and the rest of that group aren’t playing at a high level and showing they deserve to be on the field.
Players to watch
Defensive tackle Quincy Russell: The junior-college transfer was the talk of the summer, as his status remained unclear until August. OU badly needs Russell to be an impact player and ramp up the competition at defensive tackle while providing an anchor in the middle. He may not play a major role on Saturday since he’s relatively new to the program, but his first game action may show if he has the potential to make a difference for OU.
Safety Quentin Hayes: Arguably the least talked about new starter on the Sooners’ defense, Hayes could help solidify OU’s secondary if he plays at a high level. While the talk has been about freshman Ahmad Thomas and Hatari Byrd, they’ve been unable to unseat Hayes. The junior has a chance to show all the off-the-field troubles that held him back in the past are behind him, and he’s moving forward as a difference-maker this season.
Defensive end Charles Tapper: The coaches have been raving about the sophomore, who has risen to the top of the depth chart at defensive end. His size, strength and athleticism could make him a pass-rushing demon. His potential has been apparent since he stepped on campus, but it's time to start seeing his upside translate onto the field.
Reason for concern: ULM quarterback Kolton Browning will test OU’s defense early and often. He passed for 3,049 yards and 29 touchdowns in 2012 while leading the Warhawks to a 8-4 regular-season record including a road win at Arkansas. His 74.3 QBR ranked ahead of Georgia’s Aaron Murray, Ohio State’s Braxton Miller and Florida State’s E.J. Manuel in 2012. It will be a terrific early-season quiz to see if OU’s defense has improved.
Prediction: OU 35, ULM 21. After a slow start from the Sooners’ offense, Knight and company finally find their rhythm in the second quarter, scoring two touchdowns. Knight has an up-and-down debut, but his playmaking skills are apparent as he accounts for three touchdowns in his first game as a starter. And here's a prediction from Big 12 blogger Jake Trotter.