There is a lot at stake in Saturday’s game between No. 2 Oklahoma and No. 12 TCU in the Big 12 Championship game in Arlington, Texas.
A win by OU (11-1, 8-1 in the Big 12) would virtually guarantee the Sooners a spot in the four-team College Football Playoff. The Big 12 was shut out in two of the first three years of the new system.
A place in the playoff would give the Sooners a chance to advance to win a national championship under first-year head coach Lincoln Riley. Retired coach Bob Stoops won one national championship (2000) in four tries.
A win in Arlington would be additional weight to naming OU quarterback Baker Mayfield the 2017 winner of the Heisman Trophy. Many of the votes may already be in by Saturday but the announcement won’t be until a week later.
The Sooners took care of business last Saturday by beating West Virginia 59-31 in Norman. Likewise, TCU (10-2, 7-2) beat in-state rival Baylor 45-22 in Fort Worth.
“Six (Mayfield) is the best player in college football,” said West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen. “He’s got a lot of really good people around him. Up front they play nasty, they’re experienced, they’re huge. The running backs are really good, the receivers are growing up, the tight end is one of the best in college football, the fullback is one of the best in college football. They obviously had their way with us.”
Riley said a TCU rematch will be a challenge.
“It’s two different games,” Riley said. “So, nothing from the first one’s going to matter. They were a really, really good team when we beat them here and they’re still a really, really good team, and we’re going to have to play really well to beat them, and we realize that and we’ve talked about playing against one of the top teams in the country again, so it’ll be our challenge, it’ll be a big challenge and we’ll have to be ready to play.”
OU running back Rodney Anderson said the Sooners will approach the TCU game they way they do every game.
“It’s just another game, so we have to prepare for it like any other game,” Anderson said. “I don’t mind playing them twice. Whatever bus they put me on, I get on and play as hard as I can.
“Teams are always making adjustments off of each other. I’m sure we know some things that they like to do, and they know things that we like to do. It’s going to be another good game.”
“I’ve said it a lot – he’s fought through all the adversity early in his career and he’d kind of just hung in there,” Riley said of Anderson. “He didn’t pout like a lot of people would when things didn’t go his way early in the season, and those other guys were playing a little bit more. But when he got his opportunities starting with the Texas game, he made plays. He gained confidence, we gained confidence in him and he’s just continually gotten better and better.”
For OU tight end Mark Andrews, this will be a chance to win a third Big 12 title in a row.
“It is exciting,” Andrews said. “There are not many teams or if any teams have done it before. It is a big thing. I am excited for this next game and ready to play.”
On November 11, OU beat then-No. 8 TCU 38-20 in front of an animated crowd in Norman. The Sooners gained 533 yards against a tough Horned Frog defense.
In that game, OU running back Rodney Anderson ran for 151 yards and caught five passes for 139 yards and two touchdowns. Mayfield passed for 333 yards and ran for 50 more against a TCU defense that was then ranked sixth in the nation in total defense. OU got 200 yards rushing against the best defense in America against the run.
TCU will have the advantage of playing in Arlington, Texas, just a short drive from their campus in Fort Worth.
“Baker Mayfield is a really good player and he has the opportunity to win the Heisman Trophy,” said TCU coach Gary Patterson. “He’s a good football player, and he also has a lot of good players around him. The game won’t be at their place; it’s 20 minutes down the road.”
TCU wideout Desmon White said playing OU again is not out of the ordinary.
“We will prepare like any other game, go out there and play TCU football,” said White. “That’s the game we are going to focus on and hopefully win ourselves a Big 12 Championship.”
In order to make the College Football Playoff, TCU would have to beat OU convincingly and hope for a series of losses by top teams. It’s a long shot but No. 1 Alabama and No. 2 Miami lost last weekend and this could be the first time a two-loss conference champion makes it to the playoff.
TCU only allows an average of 15.7 points per game (No. 8 in the nation) while Oklahoma averages 45.3 points per game, fourth best in the country.
Against West Virginia, Riley set a record for most victories in a debut with 11. Barry Switzer had 10 in 1973 and Chuck Fairbanks had 10 in 1967.
Oklahoma is 6-0 against West Virginia since the Mountaineers joined the Big 12 and 8-2 overall. OU is the only Big 12 team that WVU hasn’t beaten since joining the conference.
Against the Mountaineers, Mayfield hit 14-of-17 passes for 281 yards and 3 touchdowns with no interceptions to record a passing efficiency rating of 279.4. That mark is the fourth best in program history (minimum 15 attempts). Mayfield didn’t start the game but entered at the start of the second series.
Mayfield has 125 career TD passes, passing former Sooner quarterback Landry Jones (123) for sixth in FBS history.
Texas A&M transfer Kyler Murray made his first start as a Sooner and the fourth of his career. He had a career-long 66-yard rush on the first play from scrimmage to set up 4-yard TD run from Anderson on the very next play. Murray finished with 80 rushing yards on three carries and threw for 52 yards and a touchdown as he completed both of his passes.
“It was fun to see him get loose and you see his electric ability,” Riley said of Murray. “I was proud of him. He handled it very well. It was not the easiest situation for him, either, so he was tremendous all week and I had a lot of confidence in him regardless of how it played out that he would come in and play well and handle it well.”
Tight end Mark Andrews aught 4 passes for 61 yards and a touchdown, all in the first half, setting a school record for career receiving yards by a tight end with 1,655 (previous record of 1,629 was held by Jermaine Gresham).
Wide receiver CeeDee Lamb tied the OU freshman record (Mark Andrews, 2015) with his seventh receiving touchdown on an 8-yard score from Baker Mayfield early in the first quarter. His team-high 92 receiving yards moved him into second place in OU history among freshmen with 741 receiving yards on the year (Kenny Stills’ program record of 786 was set in 2010).
OU kicker Austin Seibert kicked a career-long 51 yard field goal as the time expired in the first half. That kick tied him with Jimmy Stevens for seventh in OU history with 42 career FGs made.
“Well, I took my helmet off and I was on the sideline and then I noticed that the defense got a fumble recovery so I was like, ‘Alright, what’re we going to do?’ and I looked at Coach Riley and he just said, ‘Have fun,’” Siebert said. “I ran out there and just went through all my technique, and the funny thing is on Wednesday, we usually do a 51-52 (yard field goal) from the right hash, but we did one from the left hash, so it kind of worked out, and then just being confident in my snapper and holder makes every kick that much easier, and when Connor (McGinnis) is a finalist for the Mortell Award, I know that ball is getting down and the laces are forward every single time.”
It was the longest make by an OU placekicker since Michael Hunnicutt made a 53-yarder against Kansas State in 2011.
“It was big for him,” Riley said of the field goal. “We’ve had a bunch this year that were right on the edge that I didn’t kick and I was actually kind of glad when we got it. If it would’ve been anywhere inside the 40, I definitely would’ve kicked it – I had that much confidence in him.”