Big 12 champion Oklahoma awaits invitation to playoff

On Sunday, Oklahoma (11-1, 8-1 in the Big 12) should receive an invitation to the college football playoff – a four-team playoff to determine the national champion.

The Sooners, who won the Big 12 Conference Saturday night by crushing Oklahoma State 58-23, just don’t know who they will play.

Oklahoma is ranked No. 3 this week by the Associated Press and was No. 3 in the playoff poll last week (the new poll came out Tuesday night after the Tulsa Beacon goes to press).

The Big 12 has no championship game, so the Sooners are done with their regular season.

The three teams ranked with them in the top 4 must play one more game. No. 1 Clemson must face No. 8 North Carolina. No. 2 Alabama will play No. 15 Florida in the SEC title game and No. 4 Iowa will go against No. 5 Michigan State for the Big 10 crown.

The playoff semifinals are December 31 in the Cotton Bowl and Orange Bowl. The national championship game is January 11 in Glendale Arizona.

If the top four teams stay the same, OU could face Alabama in the Cotton Bowl. That would be a rematch of the Sugar Bowl at the end of the 2013 season. The Sooners won in an upset.

Even though Oklahoma suffered its one loss early to Texas, Stoops knew this team has potential.

“We felt we had a really good football team, regardless of what the outside perception is,” Stoops said. “No one knows they’re going to win it in January or at the start of September, but I knew we had a good football team — better than what we thought.”

A game against No. 1 Clemson would be a rematch of the Russell Athletic Bowl last season. The Tigers easily defeated the Sooners, who were 8-5 last season.

A semifinal against Iowa would pit Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops against his alma mater.

But in order to be in this position, Oklahoma had to beat three Top 10 teams – Baylor, TCU and OSU – in a row. While revenge wasn’t seen as a factor, those are three of the teams that beat OU last year. (OU also blasted Kansas State who upset them in Norman last year).

“Anytime you go into a championship game on the road against a team that has played well all season it’s pretty special,” said OU defensive coordinator Mike Stoops. “Our guys were determined and resilient.”

“There’s a lot of redemption going on right now for what happened a year ago. Our guys used that to fuel their fire, and it was pretty special.”

“They’re a good team,” said OSU coach Mike Gundy. “They’ve got big, strong running backs that can make plays, and we bounced off of them and didn’t tackle well. We made a few plays on offense, but when we turn the ball over, it obviously hurts us. At halftime, I said, ‘We got big played, we turned the ball over and we didn’t block as well.’ That’s what it really all came down to.”

Good fortune smiled on the Sooners. K-State, Baylor, TCU and OSU all were without their starting quarterbacks when they played Oklahoma.

Baylor freshman Jarrett Stidham filled in for Seth Russell, out with a broken bone in his neck. TCU’s Trevone Boykin, at one point a Heisman candidate and preseason All Big 12, didn’t play against OU due to an ankle injury. And OSU starter Mason Rudolph didn’t start and only played three snaps against the Sooners Saturday night. Kansas State was on their third-string quarterback against OU.

Oklahoma stands as one of the hottest teams in the nation following the stunning defeat of Oklahoma State in Stillwater. The Sooners led 44-20 at the half after a 30-point burst in the second period.

OU quarterback Baker Mayfield ran for a touchdown and passed for two more just one game after sitting out the second half of the TCU game with a concussion.

“Baker Mayfield was, again, sensational in running, passing, picking up first downs and pulling the ball on some run plays,” said Stoops. “When he has the option to pull the ball, he’s almost always correct and makes big plays with it.”

“We’ve been trying to get better each week. It’s about getting better each practice and each game; our leaders and captains are doing a great job of keeping us focused and stressing the fact that we haven’t played our best game yet,” Mayfield said.

The OU rushing game was overwhelming. Samaje Perine, who injured his ankle against TCU a week earlier, rushed for 131 yards and two touchdowns. His 68-yard touchdown run in the second period broke the game open. Running back Joe Mixon had his best game as a Sooner with 136 yards rushing and two scores. Mixon also cut loose for 66-yard rushing touchdown.

“We had two major assignment busts that caused big plays and the majority of the rest of it was yards after contact like we talked about,” said OSU defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer. “Credit them. They did a good job and ran through us. We just didn’t tackle well enough. It was my biggest fear, and it’s what happened.”

Perine, a sophomore, now has more than 3,000 career rushing yards. OU’s offense ripped the Cowboy defense for 524 yards (344 rushing).

“You have guys like that, that have talent and are able to make plays on their own, you have to be able to bring them down,” said OSU linebacker Seth Jacobs. “I believe that there were a couple of missed tackles there, and we were out-leveraged and they outplayed us to come out with the win.”

“Samaje (Perine) and Joe (Mixon) were great at running the ball,” Stoops said. “Anytime you can run the football that way, you always have a great chance to win. Sterling (Shepard) had some big plays.”

Senior receiver Sterling Shepard got his 26th career receiving touchdown midway through the first quarter on a 4-yard pass from Mayfield, tying him for third most in OU history with Jermaine Gresham. Shepard finished with a team-leading 10 catches for team-high 87 yards. His 10 receptions moved him into second place in Sooner history, passing Mark Clayton (221), with 226 total for his career.

“It feels really good,” Shepard said of the OSU win. “I had a talk with the offense before the game, and I told them how I came in wanting to win a title. At the beginning of the game, we were ready to do this thing. Everybody bought in.

“We get to enjoy this one and then put our heads right back to the books and prepare like we’ve prepared for every other game.”

After losing five games last year, Stoops fired his offensive coordinator and hired Lincoln Riley and the results speak for themselves.

“It’s been pretty good here for the last several weeks, and we knew it would be important again tonight,” Riley said after the game. “We were really proud that at the end of the game everybody in the stadium knew we were going to run it, we were able to finish them off and run the clock.”

OU’s offensive line has shown improvement throughout the season and that has helped the balance between passing and running.

“I’m so proud of this group of guys. I’m just humbled and speechless by what we’ve done, but we’re not done yet,” said OU center Ty Darlington. “It’s a long, hard journey. We’ve had to keep fighting and believing in each other, we felt like no one else was going to believe in us. We had to rely on each other and that’s what we’ve done.”

OU running back Alex Ross has his longest kick return of the year with a 90-yard burst to the OSU 4-yard line to set up the Sooners’ first touchdown. His 170 kick return yards (on five returns) were the fourth most in a single game in Sooner history.

“It’s a big spark when you just gave up a field goal and all of a sudden you answer right back to the four-yard line and take the lead,” said Bob Stoops. “It was a key play, but I don’t know that it was 50-something points worth. It wasn’t the only spark, but it was a big play.”

OSU backup quarterback J.W. Walsh threw for 325 yards and two touchdowns while receiver James Washington caught seven passes for 169 yards but it wasn’t nearly enough. Rudolph played one short series but was ineffective as he nursed a foot injury.

Against OSU, Jordan Thomas’ 32-yard interception return marked the Sooners’ third defensive touchdown of the year. The Sooners are now 32-4 under Stoops when notching a pick-six.

“Defensively, other than a few jump balls, we were excellent all day,” Stoops said. “We controlled the run. They weren’t able to run the football, and usually when you can control the run game and run it yourself, you’ve got a great opportunity to win.  I thought that was big for us. There wasn’t a ball on the ground on our end all day. We really took care of the football. I thought Austin Seibert, though maybe overlooked, really punted the ball well. It was just an all-around good team win.”

Oklahoma finished the regular season at 11-1, marking the 11th time in the 17-year Bob Stoops era that the Sooners have won 11 games and the 13th time they have won at least 10. Under Stoops’ direction, Oklahoma is the only FBS program to rack up 13 seasons of double-digit victories since 2000.

OU is now 5-0 against AP-ranked opponents this year (at the time of competition). No other Big 12 team has more than one win against an AP-ranked foe.

The Sooners are now 85-18-7 (.822) all-time against Oklahoma State (OU’s most wins against any opponent; next most is 73) and are 37-7-5 (.806) in Stillwater. OU improved to 13-4 against OSU under Stoops and to 7-2 at Boone Pickens Stadium. Oklahoma is now 13-1 (.928) all-time against the Cowboys when both teams are ranked (7-1 under Stoops).