Oklahoma-Ohio State: Sooners as ‘pretenders’? Fat chance!

COLUMBUS, OH - SEPTEMBER 09: Neville Gallimore
COLUMBUS, OH - SEPTEMBER 09: Neville Gallimore /

You can thank all of the so-called football experts, all of the broadcast talking heads and social media for the, dare I say it, shocking outcome of the Oklahoma-Ohio State game on Saturday night.

Nobody, it seemed, believed in the Sooners chances against the No. 2 team in the land, playing at one of the most difficult places for opposing teams to win. In fact, ESPN’s Football Power Index, in which Oklahoma was previously ranked No. 4, gave the Sooners only a 23-percent chance to defeat Ohio State.

ESPN college football  “GameDay” panelist Lee Corso went so far as to call the Sooners pretenders in the College Football Playoff championship chase.

Lincoln Riley was too young and unproven in the head job…the Sooner defense would never be able stop the Ohio State offense…the Buckeye’s massive D-line would run over the Oklahoma offensive line and eat Baker Mayfield alive…and on and on the criticism of the Sooners went.

It was no matter to the Oklahoma coaches and players, though. They expected as much after what happened the last time these two perennial college football powers met, in Norman a year ago. The Sooners were underdogs then, as well, and the Buckeyes literally ran over Oklahoma on the way to a 45-24 smackdown.

The 2016 OU team was loaded with offensive stars, including Mayfield, but the more youthful and perhaps even more talented Buckeyes were able to exert their will and dominate the hometown Sooners.

So flash forward to September 2017, and here comes that same Oklahoma team, traveling north this year to one of the meccas in the modern era of college football — except minus three of its four big offensive weapons from a year ago and with questions at running back, wide receiver and on defense. There was just no way, the vast majority of college analysts and media types thought, the Sooners — with a new head coach, to boot — could come into the house that Woody Hayes and Archie Griffin built and beat the No. 2 team in the land.

The one big flaw in that forecast was that, like an avalanche building in intensity as it descends down a steep mountain, all the pressure had been heaped upon the shoulders of the host team. No one thought Oklahoma would win — except the Sooners, of course — so the visitors really didn’t have much to lose, assuming they could avoid the same physical pounding they suffered a year ago.

Another factor that was overlooked by everyone who sided with the Buckeyes prior to Saturday night was how much last year’s loss to Ohio State – the last time the Sooners lost a game, incidentally — has eaten at Mayfield and the other Oklahoma players since that time and how hard they have been working and looking forward to the chance for redemption.

That time finally arrived on Saturday night in front of 109,000 rabid fans at Ohio Stadium. And the Sooners were not about to let history repeat itself.

“Our guys have a chip on their shoulder,” said Oklahoma head coach Lincoln Riley after the game on Saturday. “They’ve got an edge about ’em. They’re not going to apologize for that.”

“We’ve had that mood in the locker room that nobody believes in us,” Mayfield told reporters. “We were able to catch the fact that nobody picked us on ‘GameDay.’ We saw it on social media throughout the week that about 80 percent of the country picked Ohio State to beat us. Right now, we believe in ourselves, and that’s all that matters.”

If no one in the media believed in the Sooners before Saturday, they’ve certainly started jumping on the Sooner Schooner now. On Sunday, the College Football Playoff projections began including Oklahoma instead of Ohio State.

Next: Upshot of the Sooners' signature win over Ohio State

There is no pretending that Oklahoma has long had a target on its back in the land of college football. Now, however, as the newly appointed No. 2 team in the country, that target just got appreciably bigger.