John Hoover

John E. Hoover: With one (huge) game left, Sooners’ climb to No. 5 all but ends the playoff debate with Ohio State

John E. Hoover: With one (huge) game left, Sooners’ climb to No. 5 all but ends the playoff debate with Ohio State

FILE – In this Saturday, Oct. 6, 2018, file photo, Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray (1) scrambles against Texas during the first half of an NCAA college football game at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas. (AP Photo/Cooper Neill, File)

Oklahoma got exactly what it wanted: a rematch with Texas in the Big 12 Championship Game.

Tonight, the Sooners got more of what they wanted: the No. 5 spot in the latest College Football Playoff rankings, one spot ahead of No. 6 Ohio State.

Events are certainly unfolding that would put OU back in the playoff for the second year in a row and the third time in four years.

Now, two more things need to happen: the Sooners must beat the Longhorns on Saturday morning at AT&T Stadium, and No. 4 Georgia must lose to No. 1 Alabama that afternoon in the SEC Championship Game in Atlanta.

Book it: Without a Georgia upset, OU is all but guaranteed to take the Bulldogs’ place in the No. 4 spot ahead of the Buckeyes.

One element could upset the apple cart: if, coupled with a tight or sloppy OU victory over Texas, Ohio State blows out Northwestern in the Big Ten Championship game in Indianapolis on Saturday night. Even that scenario probably would have to be a significant margin of victory, in the realm of three touchdowns or more.

“Oklahoma’s only loss is to a ranked Texas team on a neutral field,” said CFP selection committee chairman Rob Mullens. “Impressive wins against a ranked West Virginia, a ranked Iowa State. Historic offense. We understand the defensive struggles.

“Ohio State, impressive win over Michigan. Certainly, their most complete game. Quality road win over Penn State. Loss to Purdue. Somewhat inconsistent in the second half of the year. But, again, most complete game against Michigan.”

Mullens, the athletic director at Oregon, mentioned the OU and Ohio State losses numerous times Tuesday night when asked to compare the Sooners and Buckeyes.

“We saw the impressive (62-39) win over Michigan, the complete game,” Mullens said. “But I saw the Maryland game the week before (a 52-51 Buckeyes victory, in which Maryland QB Tyrrell Pigrome missed a wide-open receiver in the end zone on a game-winning 2-point conversion), and every other game. It’s about the full body of work. That’s why we watch the games. That’s why we discuss it. That’s why we look at the data.”

It’s a small body of work, but in the four-year history of the College Football Playoff, no team has overcome a ranking of No. 7 or lower in the final two weeks and gotten into the Final Four. The greatest jump a playoff team has ever made happened last year, when Georgia jumped from No. 7 to No. 3. In 2014, Ohio State jumped from No. 6 to No. 3.

Ohio State was 10th last week, and jumped to sixth this week. To climb two more spots, the committee would make an unprecedented example.

The Buckeyes (11-1) are a 14-point favorite over Northwestern (8-4). OU is a 7 ½-point favorite this week to avenge their only loss of the season, a 48-45 last-second defeat to the Longhorns (9-3) at the Cotton Bowl.

“You look at Oklahoma, you see their only loss is to a ranked Texas team at a neutral site,” Mullens reiterated. “Impressive road wins against ranked West Virginia, ranked Iowa State. You line that up against Ohio State, with a loss against Purdue, then obviously an incredibly impressive win versus Michigan last week, then a quality (27-26) road win over Penn State. That’s how you start to line it up.”

Mullens’ main talking point has been “body of work,” but among the previous committee’s talking points was something called “game control.” Against a common opponent — TCU — Oklahoma had much greater “game control.”

Ohio State beat TCU 40-28 in a neutral site (AT&T Stadium), while Oklahoma beat TCU 52-27 in front of a hostile crowd at Amon G. Carter Stadium in Fort Worth. TCU gained 511 yards total offense against the Buckeyes, but managed only 275 yards total offense against Oklahoma. And TCU led Ohio State 20-13 in the third quarter, while the Sooners never trailed (although it was a one-possession game in the third quarter).

That’s splitting hairs — but that’s exactly what the committee’s job is when comparing two 12-1 conference champs.

The Sooners also have superior numbers when comparing strength of schedule (34th to 48th), wins against current Top 25 teams (three to two), and other metrics, including ESPN’s FPI rating (Football Power Index, fifth to sixth).

All of which will be moot if OU loses again to Texas. The reality is Lincoln Riley and the Sooners have been in a playoff ever since returning home from State Fair Park on Oct. 6.

“For us, we certainly want to be in the playoff. No doubt about it,” Riley said. “We’ve wanted to be in the playoff all year. Once you lose one in the middle of the season like we did, every game is do or die that way. If you don’t focus on one singular game, if you don’t win that game, then the playoff dream is over. There’s really no new feeling than that. This game is no different than those other than this one also has a Big 12 championship tied around it. That’s the only different than this one.”

If Riley could politic for his Sooners to get a playoff spot, what would he say?

“Right now, I would ask them if they understand how difficult it is to beat Texas because that’s all I’m worried about,” Riley said. “I get it. That’s going to be a conversation. It was the same thing last year. We knew we had to win this game. Most years, teams are going to have to win the conference to get into the playoff. That’s not a surprise to anybody.

“I want my team’s focus right there. If I want that to happen, I have to make sure mine is there as well.”

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Columnist John E. Hoover is co-host of “The Franchise Drive” every weeknight from 6-8 on The Franchise in Oklahoma City and Tulsa, and appears throughout the day on other shows on The Franchise. 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. Hoover also covers the Big 12 for Sporting News and Lindy’s magazine and is a feature writer for Sooner Spectator magazine. Visit his personal page at johnehoover.com.

John Hoover

Hoover wrote for the Tulsa World for 24 years before joining The Franchise, where he's now co-host of "Further Review" on The Franchise Tulsa (weekdays 12-3, fm107.9/am1270) . In his time at the World, Hoover won numerous writing and reporting awards, including in 2011 National Beat Writer of the Year from the Associated Press Sports Editors for his work covering the Oklahoma Sooners. Hoover also covered Oklahoma State, Arkansas, Oral Roberts and the NFL as a beat writer. From 2012 to 2016, Hoover was the World's lead sports columnist. As a columnist, Hoover won national awards in 2012 and 2014 from the National Athletic Trainers Association for reporting on sports medicine and in 2015 won first place in sports columns from the Oklahoma Society of Professional Journalists. After receiving a journalism degree from East Central University, Hoover worked at newspapers in Ada, Okmulgee, Tahlequah and Waynesville, Mo. He played football at Ada High School and grew up in North Pole, Alaska. Hoover and his family live in Broken Arrow.

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