Oklahoma football: Sooners need Big 12 help to make Playoff

MIAMI, FL - DECEMBER 29: The Oklahoma Sooners line up against the Alabama Crimson Tide during the College Football Playoff Semifinal at the Capital One Orange Bowl at Hard Rock Stadium on December 29, 2018 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
MIAMI, FL - DECEMBER 29: The Oklahoma Sooners line up against the Alabama Crimson Tide during the College Football Playoff Semifinal at the Capital One Orange Bowl at Hard Rock Stadium on December 29, 2018 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images) /

Oklahoma football is 3-0 this season and has outscored its three opponents by an average score of 56-20. Despite this, the Sooners have dropped two spots, down to No. 6, in the weekly Associated Press college rankings.

First, it was LSU that jumped the Sooners after the Tigers’ dramatic road win over then No. 5 Texas. And this week, Ohio State followed suit, pushing idle Oklahoma down yet another spot in the rankings.

With a top-10 win, LSU’s advancement in the polls (up three spots in the AP Poll, to No. 4 currently), while hurtful, was somewhat understandable. Ohio State’s leapfrog over the Sooners, however, is much more difficult to defend.

The Buckeyes have four wins, one more than Oklahoma, over four FBS teams with a combined 2019 record of 8-7. Oklahoma’s three nonconference opponents, one of which is an FCS team (South Dakota) own a combined record of 3-9 so far this season. So you could make a case that Ohio State’s level of competition has been stronger than OU’s.

Ohio State’s margin of victory through four games is 44.6; Oklahoma’s is 36.0. But the tipping point, as far as the media representatives that make up the AP voting panel are concerned, appeared to be the Buckeyes’ dominating 76-5 trouncing of Miami of Ohio last weekend while the Sooners enjoyed the weekend off.

We probably should point out that Oklahoma’s No. 4 ranking has not changed in the Coaches Poll. That is where the Sooners began the season, and that is where they remain, looking up at No. 1 Clemson, Alabama and Georgia but ahead of LSU and Ohio State.

Oklahoma is one of 12 teams, ESPN college football writer Heather Dinich projected this week, that still have a shot at making the 2019 College Football Playoff. The Sooners have a 36.9 percent chance of making the Playoff this season, according to ESPN Stats and Information analyses, but only a 5.3 percent chance of winning it. That is better, by the way, than LSU, which has the difficult SEC to navigate through, but not Ohio State.

At this stage of the season, ESPN gives Clemson, Alabama, Ohio State and Georgia the best odds of making college football’s final four at season’s end. Those four teams have a greater than 46 percent chance of making the Playoff, according to ESPN.

Oklahoma Sooners Football
Oklahoma Sooners Football /

Oklahoma Sooners Football

The first consideration for a Playoff resume is to finish the season undefeated or with no more than one loss and win your conference championship. That may get you in the conversation, but it does not guarantee one of the four Playoff spots.

The problem is their are five Power Conferences vying for four Playoff spots, and if two teams from one conference make it in (as happened in 2017 when two SEC teams, Alabama and Georgia, made it in), that only leaves two spots for four other conferences. And that assumes, of course, that a Group of Five team doesn’t further upset the applecart.

Oklahoma begins its nine-game, round-robin trek through the Big 12 this season, hosting Texas Tech in an early kickoff on Saturday. The Sooners will likely be favored in every conference game, with the biggest challenge expected to come against No. 11 Texas in the annual Red River rivalry game in the Cotton Bowl the second weekend in October.

The Sooners also must go to No. 24 Kansas State later in the season, but that is the only other ranked opponent on the OU schedule this season, and that could be a big problem for the Crimson and Cream if it finds itself on the bubble, teetering between in or out of this year’s Playoff quartet.

Oklahoma is still the heavy favorite to capture a fifth consecutive Big 12 crown this season. The ESPN Football Power Index lists the Sooners chances of winning the Big 12 at 70 percent. But that might not be enough.

The Big 12 is arguably the fourth or fifth best football conference this season, in terms of overall strength and national standing, behind the perennial leader, the SEC, the Big Ten and the Pac-12. Six SEC teams are ranked in the AP Top 25, including five in the top 10 and three in the top five. The Big Ten and Pac-12 each have five ranked teams.

The Big 12 champion, whoever it becomes, is going to have trouble making a case for Playoff consideration if other conference teams don’t step up and have strong seasons the rest of the way. Only three Big 12 teams remain undefeated, including the Sooners, and it could be down to one by Saturday night.

In the five years the Playoff format has been in existence, Oklahoma has made the field three times, the only Big 12 team to do so. In all three years the Sooners made Playoff appearances they lost once during the regular season. Twice to Texas  (2015 and 2018) and once to Iowa State (2017).

The Big 12 is not as strong overall this season as it has been in recent years, although the competitive gap between the top half of the conference and the lower half appears to have gotten smaller.

What this means is that the conference games are probably going to be highly competitive with teams up and down the conference beating each other and making it twice as tough to make it through with no more than one loss. More than one loss will almost assuredly knock the Big 12 champion out of Playoff consideration.

So now it’s time to go play the games and see where the dust finally settles. For Sooner fans, three dates stand out as the most pivotal: Oct. 12 (Texas), Oct. 26 (at Kansas State) and the regular-season finale on Nov. 30 (at Oklahoma State).