For the Oklahoma Sooners, it’s time to revel in the moment but embrace the wisdom of rocker Tom Petty. With their football résumé complete for the regular season, the Sooners (11-1) are about to live the reality Petty sang about in 1985: “The waiting is the hardest part.”
No. 3 Oklahoma, by any reasonable assessment, should have clinched a berth in the College Football Playoff along with the Big 12 championship it earned with Saturday night’s 58-23 rout of No. 11 Oklahoma State in Stillwater, Okla.
The Sooners made quick work of the Cowboys in the winner-take-all battle to become the Big 12’s “one true champion.” OU rolled for 44 first-half points, won by five touchdowns and secured its seventh consecutive victory since a perplexing 24-17 loss to Texas on Oct. 10.
The Sooners’ last three triumphs have come in consecutive weeks over No. 7 Baylor (10-2), No. 19 TCU (10-2) and OSU (10-2), completing a sweep of the league’s other title contenders.
But because the Sooners will not play another game before the final set of CFP rankings are revealed Sunday, they will have no opportunity to sway members of the selection committee with a fresh closing argument this week, when most of the nation’s playoff contenders will compete in league championship games.
For a full week, all the Sooners can do is watch. And wait.
If you’re (ranked) third and you go to a championship game away from home … and win by 30-something points, you can only move up, possibly. You sure wouldn’t move back.
Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops, on his team’s CFP playoff hopes
Frankly, it should not matter. OU’s dismantling of OSU was thorough enough that it should trigger an official thumbs-up from Jeff Long, chairman of the CFP selection committee, when the four-team playoff bracket is released during the Dec. 6 Selection Day show (11 a.m., ESPN).
For good measure, No. 6 Notre Dame dropped a 38-36 decision to No. 9 Stanford, assuring that the Fighting Irish (10-2) cannot match the Sooners’ record and mount a climb in rankings released Tuesday (6 p.m., ESPN) or when the final set of rankings surface Sunday.
That left Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops feeling pretty secure about his team’s playoff future late Saturday night.
“If you’re [ranked] third and you go to a championship game away from home … and win by 30-something points, you can only move up, possibly,” Stoops said. “You sure wouldn’t move back.”
TCU lost its highest-profile Big 12 game last season, 61-58 to Baylor. Oklahoma has won three consecutive high-profile Big 12 games.
Lest anyone forget, one of last year’s Big 12 co-champs did exactly that when ranked No. 3 heading into the final round of 2014 CFP deliberations. TCU posted a 55-3 rout of Iowa State to cap an 11-1 season, yet dropped three spots on Selection Sunday to make room in the playoff mix for Ohio State, which climbed to No. 4 by winning the Big Ten championship game.
In efforts to avoid a repeat, Oklahoma has three huge factors working in its favor that TCU lacked last season. The Sooners won their Big 12 title outright, while TCU shared its championship with Baylor. TCU lost its highest-profile league matchup last season (a 61-58 setback to Baylor), while OU swept the three schools closest to the Sooners in this year’s final standings.
Most important: Oklahoma is a blue-blood program with seven national championships since 1950 that will brings legions of fans to games and lots of viewers to playoff telecasts for E$PN, the CFP’s broadcast partner. TCU, a small private school, won its last national title in 1938 and does not rule the rooting interests of an entire state like Oklahoma.
Bottom line: Do not expect Long to cite OU’s missing “13th data point” on its 11-1 record during Sunday’s selection show as a comparable deal-breaker to what TCU and Baylor faced with 11-1 records and playoff hopes at the end of last season. For Big 12 fans with ongoing playoff angst, 2015 marks a different year, with a different team, facing a different set of circumstances. And all of them work in OU’s favor.
7 Oklahoma national championships since 1950
The Sooners’ playoff path, from all indications, should culminate with a Dec. 31 invitation to compete in a semifinal game, very likely the Goodyear Cotton Bowl in Arlington. Long made that clear while praising the Sooners’ playoff chances in last week’s CFP teleconference.
“Last year is no indication of how things are happening this year,” Long said, reflecting on last year’s Big 12 playoff shutout. “Oklahoma has performed … at a high level since [the Texas loss], so they’ve overcome that loss with their play on the field and the success they’ve had and the wins they’ve accumulated.”
Remember that Long uttered those words before Saturday’s wipeout of OSU. Expect him to be even more effusive Tuesday, when the Sooners learn whether they will climb from the No. 3 spot in the final edition of temporary rankings before the CFP field is set on Selection Sunday.
Regardless of what happens Tuesday, all the Sooners can do this week is wait until the final CFP rankings are revealed. As Petty said, the waiting is the hardest part. But for OU, the wait should be worth it when 2015 playoff berths finally are announced.
KEY GAMES THIS WEEK
No. 1 Clemson vs. No. 14 North Carolina, ACC championship game: Don’t be fooled by the CFP rankings gap, which will tighten Tuesday night. The Tar Heels (11-1), winners of 11 straight, could upset the top-ranked Tigers (12-0) and create chaos for the selection committee.
No. 4 Iowa vs. No. 5 Michigan State, Big Ten championship game: A de facto quarterfinal game. Common sense says the winner earns a CFP playoff spot but the loser does not.
No. 2 Alabama vs. No. 12 Florida, SEC championship game: A loss by the Crimson Tide (11-1) to the Gators (10-2) would complicate committee deliberations, could eliminate the SEC from the playoff mix.