In the six-year history of the College Football Playoff, Oklahoma football has made it into the elite quartet four different times and the only Big 12 team to do so.
Only Alabama and Clemson, both with five appearances, have made it to the College Football Playoff more than the Sooners. Unlike those two teams, however, Oklahoma has failed to make it past the national semifinal game in all four of its Playoff appearances.
Although it has not always been the case, the CFP selection committee now considers winning your conference a prime knockout factor in determining which teams ultimately make it into the final four.
In the 2017 season, Alabama was selected over Ohio State, the Big Ten champion, as one of the four Playoff teams despite not winning the SEC championship. That set up a huge national controversy and the message that winning a conference title didn’t matter.
Oklahoma has won five straight Big 12 championships. In 2016, however, despite winning the Big 12, the Sooners were the only conference champion among the Power Five conferences to be left out of the Playoff, losing out to Alabama (the SEC champion), Clemson (the ACC champion), Ohio State (the Big Ten champion) and Washington (the Pac-12 title holder).
With only four playoff spots available and five power conferences as the primary competition for the five spots, at least one Power Five team is going to be left out of college football’s version of the basketball Final Four every year. And if independent Notre Dame makes it into the party, that means two Power Five champions are going to be left out.
Although it has never happened in the six-year existence of the College Football Playoff, it is possible for a team from a mid-major conference to sneak into the final four, but only if that team is a conference champ and goes undefeated in the process.
As for Oklahoma’s chances of making another serious run at the College Football Playoff in 2020, first there needs to be a college football season this fall. Assuming there is football in the fall, as long as the Sooners can make it through the regular-season schedule unscathed — which is a very difficult task in a conference in which every team plays each other — or with no more than one loss, and of course win the league crown, which means that you’re going to have to play one team twice, the path will be set and at the very least OU will be in the Playoff conversation.
In Lincoln Riley’s three seasons as head coach, Oklahoma has succeeded in making it into the College Football Playoff every year. In the past two seasons, however, the Sooners have had to jump over as many as four other teams to make it to the finish line in the final weekly CFP rankings as one of the chosen four.
In the first week of the Playoff rankings in 2018, Oklahoma was ranked seventh with a 7-1 record; last year, the first time the rankings were released in October, the Sooners sat in the No. 9 position with the same won-loss record, but with two Pac-12 teams and two from the Big Ten ahead of them.
In 2015, in Riley’s first season on the OU coaching staff, as the offensive coordinator, and in Baker Mayfield’s first season as the Sooners’ starting quarterback, Oklahoma was 7-1 and all the way down at No. 15 when the first Playoff rankings of the season came out. Another Big 12 team, TCU, was undefeated at 8-0 and at No. 8. The Sooners defeated TCU twice subsequent to when the initial rankings were released.
Under Riley, Oklahoma has become a master at finding a way into the College Playoff, even with the odds stacked heavily against them.
The bottom line here: Don’t count out Oklahoma. And by the way, the Sooners should be favored again, for a sixth straight season, to take home the Big 12 hardware.
That will be step one on the ladder to the bigger prize they’re really after: winning an eighth national championship.