Oklahoma football: Avoiding the dreaded trap game in 2021

Sep 26, 2020; Norman, Oklahoma, USA; Kansas State Wildcats running back Keyon Mozee (6) runs with the ball as Oklahoma Sooners defensive back Pat Fields (10) chases during the second half at Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 26, 2020; Norman, Oklahoma, USA; Kansas State Wildcats running back Keyon Mozee (6) runs with the ball as Oklahoma Sooners defensive back Pat Fields (10) chases during the second half at Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports /

Losing games you should have won is one of the easiest ways to derail a championship run, and something the Oklahoma football team knows all too well.

There are a few certainties in life; death, taxes, and Oklahoma inexplicably losing to an inferior opponent before the month of November.

Oklahoma has appeared in he College Football Playoff four times after losing to an opponent they were favored against in the regular season Three out of those four years, they were favored by double digits in the game they lost. In one if those years, one of those losses came at home against Iowa State, (when the Cyclones weren’t as good as they were in 2020). The Sooners were actually favored in the game by as many as 31 points.

Even after The Big 12 Conference went 5-0 in bowl season, with two New Year’s Six wins over Power 5 opponents, the perception of the Big 12 remains largely negative by those put forth by the college football media industrial complex.

Right, wrong, or indifferent, It’s becoming increasingly clear that the Sooners’ days of being being granted entry to the College Football Playoff as a one-loss conference champ are numbered. In years past, the Playoff selection committee has given Oklahoma the benefit of the doubt, but every year since the introduction of the Playoff the debate for a two-loss team or a non-conference champ getting in is becoming more of a controversy.

Oklahoma’s focus should be — and most certainly is — to be undefeated and leave little doubt as to whether or not they should be in the Playoff. Not only that, the Sooners need to be able to separate from weaker conference foes.

If Big 12 opponents are deemed inferior to other conferences, and without any marquee non-conference opponents coming this season (thanks, Nebraska), Oklahoma will need to win its matchups convincingly.

Season-opening road game could be troublesome

Oklahoma could be on upset alert in Week 1, but not for reasons you might expect. With the progress being made on the vaccine front, COVID-19 cases are falling, and re-openings happening across the country, it’s conceivable that Oklahoma’s first game in a full capacity stadium in well over a year could be in New Orleans against Tulane.

If Tulane is allowed to have a full stadium, welcoming a team like Oklahoma to that environment could be electric, and it could be the recipe for an upset. The Sooners will likely be favored by a double-digit margin and should take care of business, but the prospect of a jam-packed road game of which the Sooners haven’t seen in quite some time could be troublesome.

Oklahoma will take on Kansas State, Texas, and TCU in back-to-back-to-back weeks in October.

The Sooners are currently on a two-game losing streak against Chris Klieman and the Wildcats, and barring any injuries or setbacks on the COVID front, Skyler Thompson will be back at quarterback and Bill Snyder Family Stadium, one of the best gameday environments in the country, will be packed to the gills.

Kansas State has been a constant thorn in OU’s side

Kansas State has seemingly had Oklahoma’s number more than any other Big 12 opponent in the last decade. The Sooners are just 6-4 versus K-State in the past 10 seasons.

Last time the Sooners played in Manhattan, Kansas, K-State held a 25-point lead in the fourth quarter and Skyler Thompson ran for four touchdowns. Oklahoma will have to beat a team in Kansas State that has given them fits in recent years, and then quickly turn around to play the Red River Showdown against Texas. Oklahoma will have to overcome a lookahead game against KSU, and then overcome a natural letdown coming off of Texas and hosting TCU the following weekend.

Alex Grinch’s defense will be in its third year in 2021. The defense has improved every year under his tutelage, and needs to take another step forward if OU wants to avoid another mid-season meltdown. In each of OU’s regular season losses during seasons that ended in a Playoff appearance, the Sooners turned the ball over at least once but failed to force a turnover on the defensive side of the ball.

Grinch has prioritized forcing turnovers since he arrived in Norman, and that focus has paid dividends.

The Sooners have a lot to be optimistic about in 2021. Oklahoma could finally get over the hump and win a Playoff game and have as good a chance to win an eighth national title as they’ve had under Lincoln Riley.

Spencer Rattler has the highest odds to win the Heisman, and the Sooners return a lion’s share of their receiving yards from last season.

The defensive side of the ball has plenty of continuity as well. Jalen Redmond returns next season and joins fellow defensive lineman Isaiah Thomas and linebacker Nik Bonitto, and the Sooners met an important need with Tennessee defensive back transfer Key Lawrence.

The Sooners finally appear balanced headed into spring ball, which is something Oklahoma fans aren’t exactly accustomed to. The Sooners will need to play complementary football in 2021 if they want to avoid another shocking mid-season loss.