NORMAN — Everyone wants to crown Oklahoma into the College Football Playoff, just like they want to anoint Baker Mayfield the 2017 Heisman Trophy winner.
Those rewards are no doubt inextricably linked. Mayfield may need to win the Heisman for the Sooners to advance into the playoff bracket, and No. 5-ranked OU indeed might have to win the Big 12 with a 12-1 record for Mayfield to win the 83rd annual Heisman Trophy.
But people, slow your roll.
There’s still way too much football left to be handing out any hardware right now — and the next step is the biggest: No. 8 TCU on Saturday at Owen Field.
“Obviously one of the best football teams in the country right now,” said coach Lincoln Riley. “I think, in my opinion, probably the most complete team we’ve played to this point. They’re really tremendous.”
How boring is that?
Frankly, that’s just the kind of leader the Sooners need right now.
For his part, Mayfield is dutifully echoing the company line But Mayfield is smart, too, and he knows there’s no reason to make reservations for Manhattan before he’s actually invited. He said handling all the Heisman hype right now is simply all part of OU’s daily routine, part of being the Sooner quarterback.
“The individual accolades come when you have team success,” Mayfield said. “So right now, we have one loss and we’re a top-five team in the country, or however you want to put it. It’s going to happen. You’re going to have guys who have individual recognition. But right now, I’m not worried about that.
“The guys around this program know I’m not going to get caught up in that and (know that) I’m worried about winning ball games. I’ve always been a team-first guy and the most important thing to me is winning. The Heisman won’t come if we don’t win Saturday, if we don’t win the next week after that and the next week after that. I could care less unless we win Saturday.”
The Sooners are 8-1 overall and 5-1 in Big 12 play after beating Oklahoma State 62-52 on Saturday in Stillwater. That’s a good record, sure, but it’s not good enough to put up the program’s 11th Big 12 trophy, and it’s not good enough to land its second College Football Playoff appearance.
Here’s how much attention Riley has paid to the CFP selection committee’s weekly rankings:
“Not any,” he said. “I found out the other day what we were ranked during my show, at the radio deal at Rudy’s, just because they told me. I don’t pay attention to it at all.”
Last week Riley said if he had to campaign during the final weeks of the season for the Sooners to land a playoff spot, then “the system’s broke.” He clarified that a bit during his weekly press conference on Monday.
“Yeah, I’m not saying I wouldn’t (campaign),” Riley said. “But at the same time, I’m very confident in this league, you know, that if we were to be able to take care of business in this league, then that would be all the statement that we would need.”
Riley did acknowledge he was pleased to learn last week that OU was ahead of Ohio State in the CFP rankings. The Buckeyes had jumped ahead of the Sooners in the Associated Press Top 25 as well as the Amway Coaches Poll despite losing to Oklahoma at home in September. The selection committee showed common sense in putting OU ahead of Ohio State (a debate that was rendered moot with Saturday’s Ohio State loss to Iowa).
Riley said it was a relief because he adheres to the scheduling philosophy of his predecessor and athletic director: to play a marquee non-conference opponent every year.
“And if we weren’t ahead (of Ohio State), that was probably a conversation that Joe (Castiglione) and I were gonna have, ‘Hey, we gotta look at this because we gotta make sure it’s worth it to play somebody like that.’ And I thought they made the right decision and took the right stand by showing that it is worth it. Because that’s one of the best things about college football, those marquee non-conference games. Because if they’re not being rewarded, then they’re gonna go away quickly.”
Riley also said any sentiments — including those shared publicly by committee chairman Kirby Hocutt, both last year and last week — that OU might not belong among the playoff elite because the Sooners’ defense ranks 87th nationally in yards allowed and 75th in points allowed is simply “uneducated” and needs deeper inspection.
“We’ve also seen, again, going back to the bowl games last year, there’s one conference that gave up under 20 points a game, that was the Big 12,” Riley said. “Where everybody’s playing out of conference teams. So everybody wants to talk about all that — we didn’t have any problem moving the ball against SEC defenses, one of the best ones in the country last year (Auburn) in the bowl game.
“So when you play great offenses week in and week out, and when the other teams know you’re playing great offenses, people are gonna be more aggressive. People are more aggressive against us, I promise you, because they know they’re gonna have to score some points to win. So it’s a little bit different mindset, it’s a different set of challenges. I think it’s an uneducated comment when people make that.”
So, eyes up. Saturday’s coming. TCU-Oklahoma is a huge game. Barring a catastrophic upset during the final two weeks of the season, the winner is assured a spot in the December 2 championship game in Arlington, Texas.
“They present a lot of different challenges,” Riley said. “They’re a really good football team. It’s gonna be, I think, a lot like last week. Two good teams going at it. Should be a great atmosphere Saturday night. Hopefully our fans are getting juiced up about it. I know they are. Should be a lot of fun.”
To that end, Mayfield interjected a statement after his turn at the podium on Monday.
“I got one last thing,” he said. “Being that it’s one of the last home games we’re going to have and it’s important to our college football playoff run, I’m going to call out our fans. It’s going to be an important one for us. Seven o’clock game, night game. I don’t want to hear any talk about the 2008 Texas Tech game. This needs to be the new talk for the future. This crowd needs to be going. We give it our all week-in, week-out, I expect the fans to do the same for me on Saturday.”
Hey, it’s a big game, right? All hands on deck.
After all, there’s a national championship and Heisman Trophy at stake.
Columnist John E. Hoover is co-host of “Further Review with Hoover & Rew” and can be heard every weekday on The Franchise in Tulsa from noon to 3 p.m. with co-host Lauren Rew. In Oklahoma City, catch him Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday mornings at 10:25 and every Friday afternoon at 4:05. Listen at fm107.7 in OKC, fm107.9/am1270 in Tulsa, on The Franchise app, or click the “Listen” tab on The Franchise home page. Visit his personal page at johnehoover.com.