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Oklahoma Football: Previewing The Sooners And Louisiana-Monroe

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NORMAN, Oklahoma -

The 2013 season is finally here and the Oklahoma Sooners open the year at home against Louisiana-Monroe. The Warhawks are coming off an 8-5 season in 2012, and made a bowl game for the first time in program history, losing to Ohio in the Independence Bowl.

ULM returns senior quarterback Kolton Browning, along with four of the top five pass catchers from a year ago and four starters along the offensive line. The offense is the strength of this Warhawks team, but the defense doesn't boast nearly the same experience or talent. However, after last season's success, the Warhawks aren't going to be afraid of any team they line up against.

Last year, ULM defeated No. 8 Arkansas in overtime in the first game of the season, then went to Auburn and almost won against in overtime. A close loss at home to Baylor in a shootout followed. Needless to say, ULM had captured the nation's attention as a mid-major team to be reckoned with.

This game is similar to the Sooners' game to open the 2010 season against a very good Utah State team. The Sooners very nearly lost that game, needing a late interception from Jamell Fleming to secure a tight, 31-24 victory. This year's team resembles that 2010 OU squad, with a healthy mix of veterans and very young talent.

Oklahoma should be able to win on Saturday without too much trouble, but they would be wise to remember what ULM was able to accomplish last season and treat them as a very worthy opponent.

Three things to watch for Oklahoma:

-Quarterback play

Bob Stoops surprised everyone by naming redshirt freshman Trevor Knight the starting quarterback over junior Blake Bell. Coaches and teammates have praised Knight relentlessly over the past several weeks, but Knight has never played in a game. Everyone will be looking at Knight's performance on Saturday. The scrutiny will be immense.

-Quarterback pressure

The Sooners lost every starter on the defensive line from last season and are especially thin and inexperienced at defensive tackle—Chuka Ndulue moved to tackle after he played defensive end last season. Oklahoma will have to get pressure on Browning in order to take pressure off the back seven of the defense. After all, the Sooners found out the hard way in their last game what happens when a mobile quarterback isn't pressured or contained.

-Secondary play

Oklahoma is also breaking in three new starters in the secondary, a unit that was torched down the stretch in 2012. Gabe Lynn has moved over to safety from corner with Quentin Hayes playing deep with him. Cortez Johnson will start at corner opposite Aaron Colvin, but Johnson is suspended for Saturday's game, forcing freshman Zach Sanchez into the starting role. This will be a great first test for a new OU secondary looking to put the poor performance of last season behind them.

Three top players for Louisiana-Monroe:

-Kolton Browing- 488 yards rushing, 7 TDs, 3,049 yards passing, 29 TDs

Do-everything quarterback is as dangerous with his legs as with his arm. He doesn't have the greatest speed in the world, but he's very smart about when to run and when to throw.

-Jyruss Edwards- 438 yards rushing, 6 TDs

Edwards is the leading returning running back for ULM, but only played in eight games last season thanks to an injury that caused him to miss the final five games. The Warhawks need him to be productive to take some pressure off Browning.

-Je'Ron Hamm- 62 catches, 915 yards, 6 TDs

Hamm was the No. 2 option behind Brent Leonard last season, but with Leonard gone, Browning will be looking for Hamm much more often in the passing game.

Key matchup: Kolton Browning vs. Oklahoma secondary

The first game of the season is the perfect time for Browning to face an OU secondary smarting from a bad finish in 2012 and breaking in three new starters. How the new starters play will go a long way toward determining if this game will be close or a blowout. The OU offense shouldn't have much trouble pushing the Warhawks around, especially in the ground game.

Prediction: Oklahoma 45, Louisiana-Monroe 24

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