Atop the Big 12, OU plays ISU in rare Thursday game

In 2017, the top two football teams in the Big 12 will play in a resurrected championship game. As of now, Oklahoma is atop the Big 12 and Oklahoma State is alone in second place.

If that happens at the end of next season, OU and OSU could have a rematch one week after the Bedlam game to end the regular season.

The Big 12 dumped the title game after Texas A&M and Missouri bolted to the Southeastern Conference. Two years ago, TCU and Baylor lost out on the first national four-team playoff because the Big 12 had no championship game.

“There are a number of advantages to matching our top two teams,” said Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby. “Given our round-robin, nine-game scheduling model, it is expected the Big 12 champion will be uniquely positioned for College Football Playoff consideration. I would argue there will be no path more difficult than our champion’s, where it will have played every team in the Conference, faced at least one Autonomy Conference non-conference opponent, and then plays in our championship game. The guaranteed No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup will be a great game for our fans, and it’s hard to imagine a stronger position for a conference champion.”

This year, No. 12 OU is in charge of their own destiny after blasting KU 56-3 Saturday in Norman. OU is 5-0 in the Big 12 and OSU, Baylor and West Virginia all have a conference loss. Iowa State (1-7, 0-5 in the Big 12) hosts Oklahoma at 6:30 p.m. Thursday.

”Iowa State is a much better team than their record indicates,” Stoops said Monday. Stoops said his team did some practicing for Iowa State before the Kansas game last week.

It’s rare for Oklahoma to play on a Thursday night. Stoops said he would never agree to a home game on Thursday out of respect for what OU fans go through and it would cause problems for night classes on campus. His team has less time to prepare for the Cyclones but he is confident.

“It’s challenging but it is for them as well,” Stoops said. “I don’t mind them once in awhile.”

Iowa State lost to Kansas State 31-26 last Saturday.

Stoops said he had never had a year with this many injuries. Six OU starters from the season-opening game against Houston were out in the win over Kansas — Matt Dimon (DE), Tay Evans (LB), Cody Ford (OL), Ogbonnia Okoronkwo (LB), Samaje Perine (RB) and Charles Walker (DE).

“But we are two and three deep and guys are stepping up and playing hard and well,” Stoops said. “But we are getting awful thin.”

OU linebacker Kapri Doucet has been suspended for the first half of Thursday’s game after he was ejected from Saturday’s win over Kansas for targeting a Jayhawk player.

OU receiver Dede Westbrook topped the 1,000-yard mark against Kansas, becoming the sixth Sooner to record at least 1,000 yards in a single season (Ryan Broyles [three times], Mark Clayton, Sterling Shepard, Juaquin Iglesias, Eddie Hinton).

“Dede was just sensational all night,” Stoops said Saturday.

Westbrook has 1,035 yards this season and he has tied Hinton for career reception yardage.

“He just continues to make big plays,” OU offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley said of Westbrook. “He’s benefitted from how well we’ve played up front and how well we’ve run the ball. At times, when you see receivers go on big runs they’ll attract more coverage, and you’ve got to be equipped to attack that when they do, and what we’ve seen is people not being able to do that because of how well we’ve run the ball. He’s playing well, he’s playing really good with the ball in his hands, and he’s making a ton of big plays.”

Westbrook caught five passes for 105 yards on Saturday. Westbrook returned a 71-yard punt for a TD, the first time he has scored on a return in his career.

“The dude’s a freak,” OU quarterback Baker Mayfield said of Westbrook. “I almost got mad at him, if they would’ve counted the kickoff return, I wouldn’t have had to play the first quarter. I was about to get mad at him. He’s such a great player, every time he touches the ball, he’s got the chance of going all the way.”

Mayfield completed 16 of 24 passes for 236 yards and four TDs, marking the third straight game that he has recorded at least four scores through the air – the longest active streak in the Division One football.

“He was good,” Riley said of Mayfield. “He missed a couple early, but he’s just really settling in well and he’s throwing the deep ball so well right now. Every one of them it seems like. He’s been making a lot of plays and he had a couple of key plays – maybe the two most important plays of the game – on those two third and longs where he scrambled out and found Joe [Mixon] and Dede [Westbrook].”

Mayfield’s first-half TDs came on a 41-yard strike to Dede Westbrook, a 15-yard pass to Mark Andrews and a 9-yard pass to Dimitri Flowers. He added a 7-yard completion to Geno Lewis in the second half.

“He’s been really, really important,” Riley said of Lewis. “He’s hung with it. Early in the season, he was making some plays here and there, but wasn’t playing a ton. Here’s a guy who transferred (from Penn State) across the country to come here, and didn’t get off to maybe his dream or ideal start. He’s a pretty good example for the whole team. He’s continued to get better, learn the offense and he’s been very consistent and very positive. He’s started to become a leader for sure.”

“It feels awesome,” Lewis said about his first touchdown catch. “I haven’t been in there in a while, since last January, so it’s always a good feeling into the end zone.

“I think it’s great, things have been going pretty well so far. When my opportunity comes, I try to take advantage of it and do the best that I can. I think it’s going really well.”

After getting torched by Texas Tech last week, the OU defense battled through injuries to throttle Kansas.

“They played and made competitive plays and made plays they had opportunities to make, stepped up and made them, and that’s what we have to keep building on and keep improving and keep doing more consistently,” Stoops said of his defense. “(Redshirt freshman linebacker) Ricky (DeBerry) did a really good job, (freshman linebacker) Caleb (Kelly) played well, (junior linebacker) Kapri (Doucet) did really well. Kapri kind of went in for our personnel like Obo (redshirt junior Ogbonnia Okoronkwo) does and seemed like he had a nice game. All those guys responded really well.”

The OU defense recorded season lows in points (three; previous: 17, ULM and Kansas State), total yards allowed (170; previous: 335, Kansas State), rushing yards allowed (49; previous: 65, TCU), passing yards allowed (121; previous: 152, Ohio State) and first downs allowed (11; previous: 15, Louisiana-Monroe).