Oklahoma football: Soft Big 12 tall hurdle for Sooners in Playoff race

Oklahoma football has been the dominant force in the Big 12 for the past two decades.

No other team is even close. As great as that is for Sooner fans, in recent seasons it sadly can also be considered a badge of dishonor.

When Oklahoma won its first Big 12 championship — and ultimately the national championship — in 2000, it had been 13 years since its last conference title, which came in 1987 as a member of the Big Eight.

Since that time, the Sooners have won a dozen more conference championships, including the last five in a row. No other Big 12 team has won more than three. That is the quintessence of domination.

Quite a few college football experts consider the Big 12 the weakest of the Power Five conferences, and that negative perception, real or not, works against conference champions like Oklahoma, especially when it comes time to select the four teams that make it into the College Football Playoff every season.

In this unprecedented time, the teams that are playing football this fall are battling more than one opponent every week: the team on the schedule that they are game-planning for, while also doing everything in their power to protect the players and staff from COVID-19 exposure.

Already we’ve seen game postponements because teams did not have enough healthy players to safely compete. How this will affect the entire season remains to be determined, and with every major conference playing what basically amounts to a conference-only schedule, the overall strength of the conference reflects heavily on the quality of the wins by the conference champion.

The Big 12 did little to acquit itself from its marginalized football reputation in the opening games of this abbreviated season.

Oklahoma and Texas won handily, as expected, but 25th-ranked Iowa State, picked to finish fourth in the Big 12 Preseason Media Poll, suffered a 17-point upset at home by Louisiana. Kansas and Kansas State lost at home to Coastal Carolina and Arkansas State, respectively, while Texas Tech managed to narrowly squeeze by Houston Baptist.

To add to the disappointing season start by Big 12 teams, Oklahoma State, ranked 11th in the Associated Press Top 25 to begin the season, had unexpected difficulty overcoming an undermanned Tulsa team, coming from behind for a 16-7 win.

Certainly an underwhelming opening body of work by most of the Big 12.

Just like in the 1950s and 1970s, Oklahoma football rules the Big 12

The latest AP Poll, which doesn’t yet include teams from the Big Ten or Pac-12, includes just three teams from the Big 12, led by the Sooners at No. 3 (Texas is tied with Auburn at No. 8 and Oklahoma State is now 15th). That compares with eight teams from the SEC, including six in the top 10,and  seven from the ACC.

Overall body of work is a prime criteria in the selection process for the College Football Playoff.

With most of the Sooners’ games every season being against Big 12 opponents, and the strength of the Big 12 perceived to be a step or two below that of the Southeastern Conference, the Big Ten and the Atlantic Coast Conference, Oklahoma has a key factor working against it as part of the Playoff selection process. This especially comes into play when there are one or more teams with comparable records vying for, say, the final Playoff spot.

The Sooners have found themselves front and center in that controversy in three of their four Playoff appearances.

Oklahoma has participated in four of the six Playoff years since that format was established beginning in the 2014 season. The Sooners’ four Playoff appearances are second only to Clemson and Alabama, both of which have made five Playoff appearances.

The big difference is, Oklahoma has failed to make it past the first game in its four Playoff trips, while Clemson and Alabama are both 6-3 with a pair of national championships each in their five appearances.

Except for the 2017 season, when OU secured the No. 2 seed in the College Playoff, the Sooners have been the final team to make it into the Playoff in three different seasons. One of those three times (in 2015) as the No. 4 seed, it was because the Big 12 did not hold a championship game.

The debate that year was whether Oklahoma was more deserving than the Pac-12 champion, which did not make it into the Playoff that season, or even a No. 2 team in one of the other Power conferences that held a championship game. A nonconference win at No. 3 Tennessee.

In both 2018 and again last season, Oklahoma managed to earn the fourth and final Playoff spot, but not without some controversy. Both times, despite entering the College Playoff with a 12-1 record, the Sooners had their lunch handed to them by SEC champions Alabama (2018) and LSU (2019).

Quite a few folks in the college football world — not Sooner fans, of course — are growing tired of seeing Oklahoma narrowly make it into the Playoff only to fail to show up once they get there.

Oklahoma is once again considered a national title contender this season, but with the Big 12 being what it is, even one league loss may be one too many to get the Sooners into football’s Final Four this season. And that even assumes winning the Big 12 championship.

Best way to assure a fourth consecutive trip by Oklahoma to the College Football Playoff this season is go 11-0 and eliminate all controversy.

Only 10 more to go…