As expected, members of the College Football Playoff selection committee did nothing Tuesday to slow the postseason momentum building for Oklahoma — the freshly crowned Big 12 champion.
The Sooners remained at No. 3 in the updated CFP rankings, within the projected four-team bracket. But unlike other contenders vying for playoff inclusion, Oklahoma (11-1) has no games remaining on its regular-season schedule and already has a conference championship in its possession.
The Sooners secured their latest Big 12 title with Saturday night’s 58-23 rout of Oklahoma State (10-2), which fell six spots to No. 17 in Tuesday’s rankings.
That triumph entrenched the Sooners in their current spot and, from all indications, has them positioned as a team that will be hard to displace in Sunday’s final rankings.
“The Oklahoma résumé is deep, with four victories over teams in the top 25 of our current rankings and three other wins over teams with winning records,” said Jeff Long, CFP selection committee chairman. “Clearly, we know Oklahoma is the Big 12 champion. Their position at No. 3 was very solid with the committee.”
With no opportunity to lose before the final rankings are released, logic suggests that the Sooners are as close to a playoff shoo-in as any team mentioned in Tuesday’s deliberations. That status does not apply to teams surrounding OU in the rankings because all of them face conference championship games Saturday that could dash their playoff hopes.
No. 1 Clemson (12-0) meets No. 10 North Carolina (11-1) in the ACC title game; No. 2 Alabama (11-1) faces No. 18 Florida (10-2) to settle the SEC title; and the Big Ten championship will be decided in a battle between No. 4 Iowa (12-0) and No. 5 Michigan State (11-1).
Other teams on the playoff fringes include No. 7 Stanford (10-2), which faces No. 20 USC (8-4) in Saturday’s Pac-12 championship game, and No. 6 Ohio State (11-1), last year’s national champion that did not qualify to play in this year’s Big Ten title game.
Long made it clear that North Carolina, which has two victories over FCS teams and a loss to South Carolina (3-9) on its résumé, might be hard-pressed to climb into the playoff mix even with a victory over top-ranked Clemson.
He also made it clear that CFP protocol would allow two teams from the same league to make the playoffs if there are multiple surprises Saturday. The Big Ten has three of the top six teams in the updated rankings (Iowa, Michigan State, Ohio State).
The Big 12, on the other hand, has Oklahoma. If the Sooners can remain among the top four teams when the final rankings are revealed Sunday, Oklahoma would become the first team from the Big 12 to take part in the CFP. A likely destination would be the Goodyear Cotton Bowl — Dec. 31 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington.
But nothing will be certain until Sunday. And Big 12 football fans are painfully aware that CFP rankings are fluid.
TCU and Baylor, the Big 12 co-champs in 2014, were the two highest-ranked teams omitted from last year’s four-team bracket. The Horned Frogs, in fact, sat in the same spot as OU heading into the final rankings (No. 3) before they dropped three spots in the wake of a 55-3 victory over Iowa State to close their regular season.
But this time around, the Big 12 has matched its mantra and produced “one true champion” rather than a pair of co-champs. That is key to the CFP, and Long acknowledged the lack of a Big 12 conference championship game could work to Oklahoma’s advantage this season.
“Every year is different,” Long said. “We’ve always said there are scenarios where [a conference championship game] can help or hurt a team.”
Oklahoma made its final statement about its playoff pedigree against Oklahoma State, ending a three-week stretch that also included victories over No. 11 TCU (10-2) and No. 12 Baylor (9-2).
The Frogs, who climbed eight spots in Tuesday’s rankings after last week’s 28-21 double-overtime victory over Baylor, find themselves back among the teams under consideration to play in a New Year’s Six bowl.
Baylor, per Big 12 tiebreakers, will head to the Sugar Bowl if the Bears defeat Texas (4-7) in Saturday’s regular-season finale in Waco.
At this juncture, all signs point to the Big 12 earning its first playoff spot after a tumultuous off-season in which league officials proposed, then scrapped, the idea of adding a conference championship game.
During Tuesday’s telecast, ESPN analyst Trevor Matich said: “This is validation of the Big 12 not jumping the gun after last year and adding a conference championship game.”
As long as there are no last-minute Sunday surprises for the Sooners, Matich is spot-on with that perspective.
5. Michigan State
6. Ohio State
8. Notre Dame
9. Florida State
10. North Carolina
13. Ole Miss
17. Oklahoma State
20. Southern California