No. 5 Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley called the Sooners’ 38-20 win over No. 6 TCU Saturday their “most complete game of the year.” And it came at a perfect time. As the College Football Playoff committee meets to consider Tuesday’s poll, OU’s win serves as a reminder that its resume stacks up nicely against other CFP contenders.
The truth is the winner of Saturday’s game was going to be the Big 12 Conference’s only remaining CFP contender. That was a logical assumption given that the Sooners and Horned Frogs were the only remaining one-loss team in the league. Consider this — in the history of the BCS and the CFP, only one two-loss team has made it to either the BCS title game or the CFP playoff. That was LSU in 2007. LSU, or course, won that BCS title. By the way, LSU isn’t making it this year with three losses, one of which is to Troy (oh — sorry LSU. Too soon?).
Oklahoma’s win was a reminder to the committee that the Sooner are playing some of their best football in the season’s final month. Quarterback Baker Mayfield was his usual efficient self, throwing three touchdown passes. Running back Rodney Anderson became the third Sooners player to rush for more than 100 yards and receive for more than 100 yards in the same game. The Sooners defense sacked TCU QB Kenny Hill twice and held him under 50 percent passing. That young Sooners secondary, the biggest concern going into the game, took away the big downfield plays until late in the game.
If the CFP selection was a job interview, Riley and his team could stride into the conference room at the Gaylord Hotel in Grapevine, Texas, and show them a resume with three wins over Top 11 teams — Ohio State, Oklahoma State and TCU — and only one of them was at home. Plus, the Sooners now control their own destiny as it pertains to the Big 12 and the CFP. First up is Kansas on the road, where — hey, you know what? Let’s just skip that and save some time. After Kansas, it’s a home game against West Virginia. Two wins makes the Sooners 11-1. Then, in the Big 12 title game, the Sooners would likely see a ranked Oklahoma State or TCU once again.
If Oklahoma goes 12-1 and wins the Big 12 title, there should be no question in the committee’s minds that the Sooners are worthy of a College Football Playoff berth.
In fact, there should be no question about OU as a Top 4 team when the new rankings come out Tuesday. Alabama will be No. 1 because, well, it’s Alabama. I was in the photographer’s room at Memorial Stadium on Saturday when Mississippi State tried to toss a huge wrench in this whole thing. Nick Saban’s face after the pass interference call in the end zone — a play that gave MSU an untimed down to try a second Hail Mary — was priceless. But then Nick Fitzgerald threw it out of the end zone.
But chaos was busy Saturday. Auburn dominated the nation’s No. 1 team, Georgia, throwing Georgia’s Top 4 ranking in doubt (they dropped out of the Top 4 in the Associated Press poll on Sunday). Miami (FL) made its statement by dominating No. 3 Notre Dame. No. 4 Clemson struggled with Florida State before pulling away.
So let’s talk first about what I believe won’t happen on Tuesday.
Auburn won’t suddenly vault into the Top 4. Let’s not forget the Tigers have two losses and one is to Clemson. Plus, a two-loss team has never occupied the Top 4 in ANY WEEK of the CFP since it began in 2014. I guess there is a first time for everything, but six undefeated or one-loss teams remain in the Power 5 entering Tuesday, and vaulting Auburn from No. 10 to No. 4 would require a lot of explanation (perhaps SEC commissioner Greg Sankey could provide the committee some bullet points?).
Those six teams — Alabama, Oklahoma, Clemson, Miami (FL), Wisconsin and Georgia — should be the pool the committee chooses from for the Top 4. To compare to this time last year, there were seven undefeated or 1-loss teams in the Power 5.
Plus, remember this —Georgia is already in the SEC title game, even with the loss. Miami (FL) and Clemson are locked in for the ACC title game. Wisconsin will represent the West Division in the Big Ten title game. Those results have the potential to elevate OU’s chances to reaching the CFP semifinals.
Also, Georgia won’t suddenly drop out of the Top 4. Only one undefeated team has lost while sitting at No. 1 in the CFP era. That was Mississippi State in 2014. Back on Nov. 15 of that year, the Bulldogs lost to No. 5 Alabama and fell to No. 4 the following Tuesday. Based on that, the committee is likely to respect Georgia’s season despite the Auburn loss.
I believe Oklahoma will be No. 2 or No. 3, depending upon how the committee values the Sooners’ season against Clemson’s. Their seasons have been quite similar, right down to the inexplicable loss (OU to Iowa State, Clemson to Syracuse).
So, when the rankings come out I believe Alabama will be No. 1, Oklahoma will be No. 2, Clemson will be No. 3 and Georgia will be No. 4. Clemson has four wins over Top 25 teams, but none of those teams were in the Top 10 when they played.
Of course, the pecking order matters little now. It matters so much more on Dec. 3 when the final rankings come out. But these Sooners control their own destiny, and if they keep winning, there’s no stopping them from representing the Big 12 in the College Football Playoff.