Oklahoma Football: What is Best Playoff Matchup for the Sooners?


The Oklahoma football team is in the best position of all the contenders of getting into the College Football Playoff on Championship Saturday, and best of all, the Sooners don’t have to win another game to do it.

We won’t know for sure until midday on Sunday, but we should have a fairly certain idea by the end of the day on Saturday of who the four Playoff teams will be. And unless the world comes crashing down around us, Oklahoma will be one of the Final Four.

The Sooners go into Saturday’s conference title games as the No. 3 seed in the penultimate Playoff rankings that came out last Tuesday. Depending on the outcomes of Saturday’s games, however, Oklahoma is most likely to end up anywhere from second to fourth when the final CFP rankings come out. Even No. 1 is not completely out of the realm of possibility, but both current No. 1 Clemson and No. Alabama would have to lose for that to happen.

Nov 28, 2015; Stillwater, OK, USA; Oklahoma Sooners running back Joe Mixon (25) talks to quarterback Baker Mayfield (6) against the Oklahoma State Cowboys at Boone Pickens Stadium. The Sooners defeated the Cowboys 58-23. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Michigan State likely would slip into the Final Four if the Spartans beat undefeated Iowa in the Big Ten Championship, and Stanford and Ohio State, and even North Carolina, are lurking on the doorstep should Clemson and/or Alabama fall victim to an upset.

As things stand currently, the Sooners as the No. 3 seed would face No. 2 Alabama in the Cotton Bowl in Dallas in one of the national semifinal games scheduled for New Year’s Eve. Clemson and Iowa would meet as the No. 1 and No. 4 seeds in the other semifinal game, to be played in the Orange Bowl.

It is also interesting to note that Oklahoma has met all three of the current Playoff teams in a bowl game during Bob Stoops’ head-coaching reign at OU. The Sooners lost big to Clemson a year ago in the Russell Athletic Bowl, but pulled off a stunning victory over then two-time defending national champion Alabama two years ago in the Sugar Bowl.

In 2011, Oklahoma played Bob Stoops’ alma mater, Iowa, in the Insight Bowl. The then 14th-ranked Sooners prevailed 31-14.

The best matchup for OU in the first round of the Playoff would be against one of the Big Ten teams (Iowa, Michigan State or Ohio State) because the Sooners, who have the best offensive numbers of all of the Playoff contenders, would have a decided advantage on offense, especially when they throw the ball. OU would also have a slight advantage over Stanford, statistically speaking.

Unfortunately, chances are very low that Oklahoma will face any of these three teams in the national semifinals. More likely, the matchup will be between Oklahoma and Alabama or the Sooners and Clemson. And of those two heavyweights, the Crimson Tide of Alabama would pose the biggest challenge for Stoops’ troops.

Nov 14, 2015; Waco, TX, USA; Oklahoma Sooners running back Samaje Perine (32) scores a touchdown against the Baylor Bears at McLane Stadium. The Sooners defeat the Bears 44-34. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

It is a pretty safe assumption that Alabama would not overlook the Sooners a second time in a postseason bowl and certainly in a game with national title implications. That in itself is not good news for Oklahoma, but it is also a given that the Crimson Tide defense is much better than the one the Sooners faced in the 2014 Sugar Bowl.

Alabama leads the country in rushing defense, allowing just 79 yards a game, and is No. 2 in total defense (265 yards per game). Oklahoma has struggled in the 2015 season when it wasn’t able to establish its running game with Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon, and it will be extremely difficult for the Sooners to move the ball on the ground with any consistency or success against a very strong Alabama defensive front.

When the OU run game is contained, it puts more stress on the pass offense and allows the defense to tee off on the quarterback with more blitz packages. In Oklahoma’s lone loss this season, against archrival Texas, the Sooners managed just 65 yards on the ground.

The better Oklahoma matchup, if it has to be Alabama or Clemson, would be Clemson. The Tigers aren’t as strong as Alabama defending the run game, but they are one of the best in the country – fourth to be precise – in pass defense. The Tigers are allowing 161 passing yards per game.

From a psychological standpoint, the Sooners probably would come into a game with Clemson bearing more of a grudge and looking for redemption after the way Oklahoma was embarrassed last bowl season in a 40-6 thrashing by the Tigers and former OU defensive coordinator Brent Venables’ Clemson defense.

It is hard to argue that any team in the country is playing better football to finish the regular season than the Oklahoma Sooners. In that regard, it really doesn’t matter who is better or best at this time of the season. It only matters which team is the best on the field on four weeks from now on New Years Eve and, for the victors on that night, 11 days later on Jan. 11, in Glendale, Ariz.

What matters now is that the Oklahoma Sooners are one of the four schools still in the chase for the national championship in college football. It is Bob Stoops’ first appearance in the new College Football Playoff format, and the Sooners sixth legitimate shot at a national championship under Oklahoma’s winningest football coach.