The Sooners won the Big 12 title and got to the College Football Playoff last season, but it’s going to be a tougher road this year. What is Oklahoma’s Path to the Playoff?
It worked. Oklahoma made the tweaks to its offensive system, got the right parts in place, and boom – the Sooners won the Big 12 championship and made the College Football Playoff.
It might have been a disappointing finish with the loss to Clemson in the Orange Bowl, but it was still a wildly successful year for head coach Bob Stoops and the program coming off a clunker of an 8-5 campaign the season prior.
Can the Sooners do it again? Can it come up with the same magic at the right time? What is Oklahoma’s Path to the Playoff?
Step One: Defensive front seven must be ready to roll
The defense was terrific for most of the year, right up until it melted in the South Florida heat against Clemson. Gone are linebackers Dominique Alexander and Eric Striker, along with end Charles Tapper, but there’s plenty of talent returning. With a tough September, all the replacements have to be fantastic, and the defense must immediately be in midseason form in order to …
Step Two: Beat Houston and/or Ohio State
The Sooners could lose to either the Cougars or Buckeyes and still be in the College Football Playoff chase, but there wouldn’t be any margin for error. With no Big 12 title game, Oklahoma must be 11-1 to be in the discussion. Last season it caught a break with Notre Dame losing to Stanford, and even one loss leaves the Sooners vulnerable. With this schedule, 12-0 guarantees the College Football Playoff no matter what.
Step Three: Don’t blow the freaking Texas game
It almost cost Oklahoma a playoff spot last year, considering it lost to the Longhorns, 24-17, and Notre Dame blasted them in the opener. The Red River Rivalry occasionally defies all logic, and for the Sooners, it’s been a problem losing two of the last three. They managed to overcome the loss last season, but with the nasty schedule ahead – and assuming they beat Houston, Ohio State and TCU before – there can’t be another mistake in Dallas.
Step Four: Limit the hits Baker Mayfield takes
Last year, the Sooners could rely on Trevor Knight to step in and keep the offense rolling. He might not have been the right quarterback for the attack like Mayfield, but he’d been through the wars. Now Knight’s the main man for the Texas A&M offense and Oklahoma will most likely rely on freshman Austin Kendall if the reigning Big 12 Player of the Year goes down. Considering Mayfield had to go through the concussion protocol in two of his last three games last season, the line has to be better than allowing 41 sacks.
Step Five: Put the easy ones away early
Maintaining the fire and the focus throughout the season will be the with so many high-profile games over the first half of the season, and with Baylor, at West Virginia and Oklahoma State to close things out. Going to Texas Tech will be tough, and Kansas State has a strong defense, but the Sooners must dispose of the Red Raiders and Wildcats, along with Kansas and Iowa State, without any drama. Last year, through this same run against those four teams, OU went 4-0 by a combined score of 232 to 50.
That mid-October to early November stretch of dog days needs to be a breeze and without any major injuries because OU needs to …
Step Six: Be even better against an improved Big 12
It always takes a break or two to win a conference championship, but last year the Sooners were fortunate to miss Trevone Boykin in the TCU win, didn’t face Baylor starting quarterback Seth Russell in the 44-34 victory, and all but missed Mason Rudolph – who was 0-3 with a pick while hobbling through a broken foot – in the blowout win over Oklahoma State.
This year, Boykin is the only starting quarterback not returning in the Big 12. Texas Tech, Kansas State, West Virginia, Oklahoma State and Texas are all going to be better. This year, the Sooners will have to be even stronger to take the conference title.
So, What Are The Chances To Get To The Playoff?
Okay, but not great. Oklahoma should still be the Big 12’s best team, but again, the league is a lot better and those two non-conference dates against Houston and Ohio State could be killers. Unlike last season – when OU had to go to Tennessee, Baylor, and Oklahoma State, the road schedule isn’t quite as bad. The Sooners will be close, but they’ll lose more than once. That’ll be just enough to keep them out.