College Football Playoff: Case for Sooners to reach finish line first

ARLINGTON, TX - DECEMBER 02: The Oklahoma Sooners pose for a team photo after winning the Big 12 Championship against the TCU Horned Frogs 41-17 at AT
ARLINGTON, TX - DECEMBER 02: The Oklahoma Sooners pose for a team photo after winning the Big 12 Championship against the TCU Horned Frogs 41-17 at AT /

T-minus- eight and counting. That’s the countdown for when Oklahoma will go to battle against Georgia in the College Football Playoff for the right to play for college football’s ultimate prize: a national championship.

The Big Holiday is here, and while all of us are resting and putting up with immediate and extended family and overloading with food and drink, the four teams left standing in the College Football Playoff race are busily preparing for their biggest games of the season.

There are four teams in college football’s Big Dance, but only one will end the season on a winning note and with a championship trophy in hand. Here is the case for the Sooners being that team.

Oklahoma enters its New Year’s Day Playoff game with Georgia in the Rose Bowl as the No. 2 seed. All that means, really, is that the Sooners were ranked higher at season’s end than the two SEC participants, conference-champion Georgia and perennial SEC champ Alabama.

Clemson owns the top seed, but drew the more difficult and dangerous of the Playoff draws in having to face an angry Alabama team that is out to prove that it deserves to be there. After all, the Crimson Tide ranked No. 1 in most everyone’s poll for most of the season until falling in their final regular-season contest in the annual Iron Bowl rivalry game with Auburn.

Given the potential semifinal matchups, the Sooners have to like the way the bracket worked out and their chances against Georgia.

That is not to say the 2017 SEC champions will be a pushover by any stretch of the imagination. The Bulldogs possess the fourth-best defense in the country and is, by far, the best defense Oklahoma has faced this season.

The Georgia offense is very good also, with two powerful running backs that have combined for more than 2,000 yards rushing, but it is not as good as the Sooners’ offense, which is going to be the most balanced and explosive attack the Bulldogs have gone up against this season.

Oklahoma Sooners Football
Oklahoma Sooners Football /

Oklahoma Sooners Football

The Las Vegas on-line handicapper has Oklahoma as a one-point favorite over Georgia, but a number of other prognosticators and oddsmakers have the Sooners as underdogs in the game.

I don’t believe the semifinal contest with Georgia will be decided by the much-anticipated matchup between Baker Mayfield and the high-octane OU offense going against the Georgia defense, but rather how well the Georgia offense can sustain drives, control the clock and keep Mayfield on the sidelines for long stretches.

The Oklahoma defense was ranked 87th in the country through the first eight game this season. In the final four games of the regular season, though, the OU defensive unit began playing much better.

The Sooners held three of their last four opponents (including TCU twice) to 20 points or less and fewer than 400 yards of offense. As a result, the Sooners now rank 57th in defense among FBS teams. That might not seem like much, but it is a marked improvement over earlier in the year and shows that OU is getting off the field on defense, which creates more offensive possessions for Mayfield and Co. and havoc for opposing defenses.

OU defensive coordinator Mike Stoops is a master as disguising coverages and will surely bring pressure against Georgia’s freshman quarterback Jake Fromm. We will see how the young Bulldog Signal caller will respond.

Georgia is going to have to stop the Oklahoma running game, which is averaging 215.9 yards per game. If the Bulldogs aren’t able to do that, it could spell double trouble with all the playmakers the Sooners have both running and catching the football.

Georgia will be a serious test, but I see Oklahoma prevailing 35-31 in a closely contested game.

You have to win the first game, of course, in order to have the opportunity to play for the big prize. That will be the ultimate test for Oklahoma, a challenge similar to going into Ohio Stadium and beating Ohio State. We now how that worked out this season, which gives us confidence that the Sooners will bring their big-boy pads and have as good a chance as any team to pull off the unexpected and win out over either Clemson or Alabama in a championship showdown on Jan. 8 at the Mercedes-Benz Dome in Atlanta.

We will build that case after the Rose Bowl triumph in a little over a week, when we know which team Oklahoma will do battle with, and explain how the Sooners will be the last team standing when all the dust settles two weeks from now.