Oklahoma football: Sooners keep finding a way

ARLINGTON, TX - DECEMBER 02: Head coach Lincoln Riley of the Oklahoma Sooners raises the Big 12 Championship trophy after defeating the TCU Horned Frogs 41-17 at AT
ARLINGTON, TX - DECEMBER 02: Head coach Lincoln Riley of the Oklahoma Sooners raises the Big 12 Championship trophy after defeating the TCU Horned Frogs 41-17 at AT /

The Oklahoma football victory over Auburn last season in the Sugar Bowl was the Sooners 29th win all-time in 50 postseason bowl games.

This season, Oklahoma has stepped it up a notch, making the coveted College Football Playoff and the chance to play for the college game’s grand prize – the national championship – for a second time in three seasons.

After the Sooners dominant victory over Auburn in the Sugar Bowl, all of the way-too-early projections for the 2017 season had the Sooners in the top-five nationally. Then, in early June this year, longtime OU head coach Bob Stoops announced his retirement, handing the reins to the Sooners’ offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley, who, at 33, became the youngest head coach in the 130-team Football Bowl Subdivision.

All of a sudden, the high expectations for Oklahoma in the coming season came under serious scrutiny, questioning whether a new head coach could sustain the same success achieved by his predecessor, one of the winningest coaches in college football for nearly two decades.

No Bob Stoops, no problem. Stoops led the Sooners to 10 Big 12 championships in his 18 seasons on the OU sidelines, including the last two. Riley picked up right where his former boss left off, leading OU to its third consecutive conference championship and an 11-win regular season, the most wins ever by an Oklahoma head coach in his debut season – more than Bud Wilkinson, more than Barry Switzer and, yes, even more than Stoops, who became the winningest coach in OU’s illustrious football history.

The Sooners are 4-0 in their last five games against teams from the revered Southeastern Conference, and have a chance to make it 5-0 when they go head-to-head against this year’s SEC champion, Georgia.

Oklahoma owns six recognized national championships (1950, 1955, 1956, 1974, 1975 and1985) earned the old-fashioned way, when the team ranked at the top of the season’s final Associated Press college football poll was named No, 1 in the land and awarded the national championship trophy. The Sooners also won a national championship in football in 2000, in the second season of the Bowl Championship Series (BCS).

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OU’s seven national championships are tied with USC for third most since the Associated Press began declaring a national champion in college football in 1936. Only Alabama (11) and Notre Dame (8) have more national championships than Oklahoma over that time span.

The highly criticized BCS format, introduced in 1998, combined weekly poll rankings along with computer models in an attempt to identify the two best NCAA Division I teams to meet that season in a one-game, winner-take-all contest to determine a national champion.

Oklahoma played in the BCS Championship game four different times, winning it in 2000. Only Florida State, the team the Sooners beat to win it all in 2000, made more appearances in the championship game in the BCS era than Oklahoma. Unfortunately, the Sooners were just 1-3 in BCS Championship showdowns.

In the four-year history of the College Football Playoff, Alabama has been there every season, compiling a 3-2 overall record and winning the national crown two season’s ago. Clemson, the reigning national champion, is making its third appearance, and if the No. 1- ranked Tigers made it into the championship game on Jan. 8 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta it will be their third consecutive appearance in the title game.

With Clemson sitting on the other side of the Playoff bracket, a third postseason matchup between OU and Clemson in the last four seasons is possible. If that comes about, it will be for the national championship. Clemson defeated the Sooners in embarrassing fashion in 2014 Russell Athletic Bowl, 40-6, and again the following season in one of the Playoff national semifinal games, 37-17.

Only three other teams have more postseason bowl appearances than the Sooners’ 50: Alabama (65), Tennessee (52) and Texas and USC (51 apiece). OU’s 29 bowl victories are the fourth most in college football, behind only Alabama (38), USC (34) and Georgia (30), the Sooner’s opponent this season in the Playoff Final Four.

The Sooners are no strangers, either, to the biggest stages in college football. In the 20 combined seasons of the BCS and College Football Playoff, only Alabama (seven combined) has made more appearances than the six by Oklahoma. Ohio State is next with five combined appearances.