If the Sooners win out, they deserve a playoff spot
Oklahoma have risen swiftly up the College Football Playoff rankings, from 15th two weeks ago to seventh this week. If they win out they will finish the season as 11-1 Big 12 champions with a road win over an SEC team to their credit, making them strong contenders for a playoff berth. However, attention has focused on the negative — namely their loss against Texas in the Red River Rivalry.
On its own, that loss to a 4-6 Texas team is damaging enough, there’s certainly no sugar-coating it. It could seem worse though should the Sooners win out, as Notre Dame is a potential rival for a playoff spot and they walloped the Longhorns in the opening game of the season. Never mind that Texas had different starters (most notably at QB), a different play caller and played like a team inspired in the rivalry game — such divergent performances against a common opponent could give the Irish the edge should that be the line of reasoning the committee takes.
The good news for Oklahoma is that the committee is following a piecemeal approach, mixing and matching ranking criteria depending on the teams involved. Where a bad loss might count against one team, another can be ignored, such as Alabama’s home defeat to Ole Miss. Where a weak schedule might have held back Baylor in the rankings until they could prove themselves, another team, such as Ohio State, can get the benefit of the doubt. The committee is willing to overlook some negatives when they are impressed by overall talent or performance, which bodes well for the Sooners as they’ve been playing about as well as anybody.
That is perfectly encapsulated at the quarterback position, where Baker Mayfield leads the nation with a +44.0 overall grade. Mayfield hasn’t posted a negative grade in any game this season, which has pushed him into the Heisman race. Mayfield has an astonishing 152.7 passer rating when targeting Sterling Shepard, the Sooners leading receiver — that’s the best connection between any QB-WR combination in the nation (minimum of 15 targets). Shepard has dropped just one of the 60 catchable passes thrown his way and his +24.1 overall grade ranks second among wide receivers.
The Sooners also have one of college football’s in-form rushing attacks. Over the past five weeks running backs Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon boast +12.5 grade and +11.6 overall grades, ranking them fifth- and tenth-best in the nation, respectively, in that span. Perine was crucial in the Sooners road win over Baylor, rushing for 166 yards and two touchdowns while averaging 4.2 yards after contact and forcing 11 missed tackles on 28 carries.
The Sooners have also impressed defensively. They are 21st in the nation in yards allowed per game at 336, and tied for 24th in the nation by allowing 19.7 points per game. Playing in the pass-happy Big 12, those numbers are better than they seem. The Sooners held Baylor to a season low 416 yards of offense, and are one of two teams to have held Texas Tech below 300 yards passing (the Sooners gave up 253 yards through the air to the Red Raiders).
Defensive ends Charles Walker (+26.6 overall) and Charles Tapper (+16.9) have six sacks apiece and combine for 45 total pressures, both gradding out among the top 15 3-4 ends in the nation. Walker is one of three defensive linemen with a run defense grade of +10 or greater.
Like all 3-4 defenses, Oklahoma look to their outside linebackers. For the Sooners that’s primarily Eric Striker (+19.6). Striker has recorded eight sacks and 35 total pressures on his way to a +16.4 pass rush grade, good for sixth among 3-4 OLB’s. The return of Devante Bond (+8.7) should add to the Sooners’ pass-rush threat, he’d amassed two sacks and 12 total pressures in the three games prior to his injury.
If the Sooners win out and keep performing in this same manner, they may simply be too good for the committee to overlook, despite a poor loss on the resume.