The Sooner Schooner Barrels Forward
Oklahoma came into Baylor and put up a 44-34 win where the Sooners had control of the game by the second quarter. While it was close all the way to the end, right up to Baker Mayfield’s clinching third-and-goal touchdown pass to Dimitri Flowers with less than five minutes to go, OU had control of the line of scrimmage and was the better football team on Saturday night in Waco.
Even in the wide-open Big 12, controlling the ground game still matters. Oklahoma outrushed Baylor 241-159, and gained 4.5 yards-per-rush to Baylor’s 3.6. That opened up the downfield game. Sooner wide receiver Sterling Shephard consistently got open down the field and caught 14 passes for 177 yards.
By contrast, the Bears could never get it rolling downfield. Corey Coleman, the brilliant wide receiver who might have gotten himself into the newly wide-open Heisman race with a big night was limited to three catches for 151 yards. Oklahoma played good coverage defense and the failure of Baylor to establish a consistent running attack never forced the OU defense up tighter to open things up.
There were halftime reports that Baylor quarterback Jarrett Stidham had a back injury that he was required to play through. Clearly that didn’t help on a night when Stidham was going to have to be at his best. Just as clearly though, the flaws that Baylor showed last Thursday night at Kansas State—an inability to stop the run—came up and bit them against a quality opponent.
Oklahoma is squarely in the mix for the College Football Playoff. The Sooners still need to beat TCU and currently undefeated Oklahoma State, but in those games lie their opportunity to separate themselves from other one-loss contenders.
The result of this game makes it very likely the Big 12 will have a one-loss champion. Oklahoma State is the only unbeaten team left, and they had to rally late for a win over Iowa State. The scenario for November chaos took a big step forward yesterday…
*Beyond the Big 12, Stanford lost to Oregon. This carries an importance well beyond just knocking the Cardinal from the ranks of the one-loss teams—an importance that’s still pretty big unto itself. Now, if Stanford beats Notre Dame in Palo Alto on November 28, it rewards another potential team out there, rather than the Cardinal.
*Elsewhere in the Pac-12, Utah lost to Arizona. Within the conference, this gives USC control of the Pac-12 South. In the national picture, this means the Pac-12 champ is going to have two losses.
*All of this keeps the door open for a two-loss Power Conference team (looking at you, Michigan) or an undefeated Houston to step into the Playoff. There’s three more weeks of games and still a lot that can happen. It’s hardly unthinkable for the fourth-ranked team in the country to have two losses, so there’s still a lot up in the air.
*Speaking of Houston, the rallied to beat Memphis 35-34 to stay undefeated. It’s going to be a stretch for the Power 5-dominated Selection Committee to be open to a team from the American Athletic Conference for a Playoff spot, but there is the significant matter of that automatic ticket to the New Year’s Six that goes to the highest ranked mid-major team.
That sets up a big date on Black Friday between Houston and Navy. Coming into this week, the Middies were actually the highest-rated midmajor by the Committee and therefore would have gotten the bid. Houston’s win over Memphis may change that, but in either case, the winner of Houston-Navy is going to have a big leg up for that bid.
*And speaking of Michigan’s chances of benefitting from chaos, they won a wild game themselves, 48-41 in double overtime over Indiana. The Wolverines need Ohio State to beat Michigan State next week, but if that happens, Michigan controls its destiny in the Big Ten and could make its final case for the Committee by beating unbeaten Ohio State and unbeaten Iowa back-to-back. That’s a pretty good closing argument.
*As for poor Indiana, I watched their game with the Wolverines and part of me feels for the Hoosiers because they just can’t get a break in these close games—they’ve gone to the wire with Michigan, Ohio State and Iowa at home. Another part of me says if they learned to play even mediocre defense they wouldn’t have this problem.
At least three times I saw Jake Rudock—hardly a mobile quarterback, just take off and on third-and-long and pick up a first down with ease because nobody stayed at home. When you’re that poorly disciplined on the defensive side of the ball you aren’t going to beat good teams and you’re more likely to blow leads—like the 52-33 fourth-quarter lead the Hoosiers blew in a loss to Rutgers. And you put yourself in a position where it’s going to take sweeping Maryland and Purdue on the road just to get bowl-eligible.
The Playoff Committee rankings come out again on Tuesday. Regardless of where the rankings are then, here’s the likely guess at which teams truly control their fate—just win and you’re in…
*Clemson—they survived the letdown spot in Syracuse. The potential ACC title game battle with North Carolina is the biggie that remains.
*Alabama/Florida—When I did this exercise earlier in the week, I neglected the Gators. But if they win out—which would include beating Florida State, beating Alabama in an SEC Championship Game and finishing 12-1—I have to think Florida’s a lock to take the spot we’re currently reserving for the Crimson Tide.
*Ohio State/Iowa—The unbeaten of the Big Ten still on track for a de facto quarterfinal game in Indianapolis.
*Oklahoma State—An undefeated Big 12 champ may be unlikely, but if the Cowboys beat Baylor and Oklahoma in the weeks ahead, they’re going to pass Notre Dame for the 4-spot. Book it.