Oklahoma pulled off a miraculous comeback from a 28-3 deficit against Baylor in Week 12 for a 34-31 victory in an incredible primetime showdown that will be a “Game of the Year” candidate.
The Sooners are on track to win a fifth straight conference championship as a result, and they did that without their best offensive playmaker in All-American candidate CeeDee Lamb. Their reward?
A one-spot jump from No. 10 to No. 9 in the latest College Football Playoff rankings. If there is a team that should have a gripe for how the top 10 shook out on Tuesday, then it’s the Sooners, who will likely have to rely on chaos to make a fourth trip to the College Football Playoff. Why didn’t Oklahoma make a bigger jump?
“We don’t look at it as how far they are jumping,” CFP committee chairman Rob Mullens said on the weekly teleconference. “Remember, we start out with a clean sheet of paper every week, and we do these in rounds.
“When we look at Oklahoma, we see the second half and the win against No. 14 Baylor, only loss to K-State, and the committee thought Oklahoma deserved to be No. 9.”
Oklahoma shouldn’t be in the top four right now, but the Sooners probably deserve to be a spot or two higher in the rankings. No. 1 LSU (10-0), No. 2 Ohio State (10-0), No. 3 Clemson (10-0) and No. 4 Georgia (9-1) all control their own destiny, though it’s fair to say the Sooners’ loss to Kansas State is not nearly as bad as the Bulldogs’ loss to South Carolina on Oct. 12.
When you look at the teams ranked in the next four spots, however, Oklahoma stacks up better than you think among the one-loss teams.
The Sooners are banking on No. 8 Penn State losing at No. 2 Ohio State this week — a likely result, considering the Buckeyes are an 18-point favorite. No. 5 Alabama? They won’t have a conference championship or a quality victory, other than Auburn, potentially, to fall back on. Ask any Crimson Tide fan if they would rather have Mac Jones or former Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts for the final two games of the regular season.
So, the question is this: Can the Sooners leap the Pac-12 champion if either No. 6 Oregon or No. 7 Utah survive the rest of their schedule with one loss?
“The committee discussion about Oregon was their consistent play all season and they have won nine in a row,” CFP executive director Bill Hancock said. “Also, Utah’s strength on both sides of the ball and an outstanding defense. So the committee ranked those teams where they did.”
After all, the teams have similar point differentials with Utah at plus-234, Oregon plus-230 and Oklahoma plus-214. The Sooners don’t have the same defense, but they have the nation’s third-best scoring offense (47.0) behind Ohio State (51.5) and LSU (47.8). Oklahoma leads the nation in total offense at 581.1 yards per game.
Mullens said Oklahoma isn’t being penalized for the notion of “game control.” Oklahoma trailed Kansas State 48-23 before rallying in a 48-41 loss. The Sooners nearly blew a 42-21 lead in a 42-41 win against Iowa State, and they rallied from the 28-3 deficit to beat Baylor last week. So does that “game control” matter?
“That is not a metric and not something the committee uses,” Mullens said.
Oklahoma could conceivably close the gap with Utah regardless, given the strength of record of both teams. The Sooners beat No. 14 Baylor, No. 22 Iowa State and still play No. 21 Oklahoma State. Utah has not defeated a team currently ranked in the top 25.
Here’s a look at the overall records of the teams’ opponents thus far, the records of whom they beat, of who beat them and of who they have left on the schedule:
The end-all debate could be Oregon vs. Oklahoma, and that’s going to be interesting if the Sooners win the eye test over the next three weeks. Oregon’s best win is against No. 23 USC. Mullens, Oregon’s athletic director, and Joe Castiglione, Oklahoma’s athletic director, are both on the committee. They will not be involved in those discussions if it comes to that.
So, what is left for Oklahoma to do to close the gap? They should do what they always do: Win the Big 12 championship, hope for a little chaos, play up the Heisman runner-up angle with Hurts and run it up in the last three weeks
It won’t leave “no doubt.” But it could leave enough doubt to get the Sooners back in.
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