Oklahoma inherited the role of Big 12 team most likely to reach the College Football Playoff by climbing to No. 3 in Tuesday’s updated rankings.
The Sooners’ perch marks the loftiest of the season by any team in the league and allowed Oklahoma (10-1) to become the first Big 12 school to fall within the four-team window of the projected playoff bracket in any set of rankings this season.
Multitudes of Sooners fans, no doubt, envision Tuesday’s four-spot climb as proof that OU is merely one win away from punching its playoff ticket — at No. 11 Oklahoma State (10-1) in Saturday’s regular-season finale.
Don’t believe it.
It may work out that way. But understand the volatility of the situation and the ever-changing, collective mind of the CFP selection committee that also placed No. 7 Baylor (9-1) among its primary playoff hopefuls.
During Tuesday’s teleconference, CFP selection committee chairman Jeff Long explained the Sooners’ climb past No. 4 Iowa (11-0) in the updated rankings.
“In our view, Oklahoma is better than Iowa,” Long said, citing OU’s six victories over teams with plus-.500 records as evidence. “In our estimation and in our votes, we feel that way.”
That perspective marked a 180-degree shift of collective opinion from the previous week, when Long explained that Iowa was “better” than Big 12 pursuers OSU and Oklahoma and deserved to be ranked ahead of both teams.
At that time, Long said: “I think [Iowa is] better. They’re balanced on offense and defense.”
Yet in the span of seven days, Oklahoma somehow used a 30-29 escape from No. 19 TCU to swing enough votes within the committee room to become “better” than Iowa on the same weekend the Hawkeyes hammered Purdue 40-20 to remain one of two undefeated teams at the FBS level. The other unbeaten team is top-ranked Clemson (11-0).
Sounds like Mike Tranghese, a committee member who did not take part in this week’s vote due to illness, must be one heck of an Iowa supporter behind closed doors. Either that or you can embrace the obvious conclusion, the one OU fans don’t want to hear:
This committee changes its mind more often than a model changes clothes during a fashion show. What is gospel today means nothing next week, and no team should feel comfortable with its position in Tuesday’s rankings. That includes Clemson and No. 2 Alabama (10-1), the two teams that seem most entrenched in the committee’s estimation.
It certainly includes all pursuers behind the top two, including Oklahoma, which hopes to break into the playoff mix from the same No. 3 spot that TCU held going into last year’s final round of CFP deliberations. The Frogs defeated Iowa State 55-3 in their final game yet dropped three spots to clear room for No. 4 Ohio State.
OU fans should take a lesson from that last-minute backslide by a Big 12 frontrunner, particularly since the Sooners will be idle on the weekend of Dec. 5 while most playoff candidates will be sprucing up their résumés in conference championship games. Nothing is guaranteed in this process until Long reveals your school’s name as one of the four that is “in” on Dec. 6.
Without question, OU brings more blue-blood political clout, more ticket buyers and higher TV ratings to the CFP table than TCU or Baylor, which also felt the glass ceiling applied to its 2014 playoff hopes despite sharing last year’s Big 12 title with TCU. All of those tangibles and intangibles mean plenty to E$PN, the CFP’s broadcast partner.
But most teams on the fringes this year can match blue-blood pedigrees with Oklahoma, which is why I would not embrace Long’s lavish praise of OU’s six-game winning streak that “has moved them past that loss to Texas.”
Instead, hear this. In regard to the Sooners’ ability to secure a playoff berth, Long said: “They need to add that final piece to their body of work against Oklahoma State.”
Left unsaid: That still might not be enough.
Then again, it might be. This is Oklahoma, not TCU or Baylor.
This is a team Long said was “solidly in control of that game” against TCU before a head injury to quarterback Baker Mayfield forced him to sit out the second half. Long said Mayfield’s injury “had an impact” in allowing TCU to rally, behind a third-team quarterback, from a 17-point deficit to within a failed 2-point conversion of a stunning comeback.
A week from now, CFP committee members may downgrade OU’s latest victory when they spot the fourth-quarter defensive collapse that unfolded on my TV. Who knows? Just realize, Sooners fans, that the CFP has a very fluid definition of “better” when it comes to comparing teams.