You’ll have to forgive Lincoln Riley if he thinks he must prepare for two teams this week.
The first is obvious. Riley’s Sooners take on Texas for the Big 12 title Saturday morning at AT&T Stadium in Arlington. That’s already an unusual game. It’s the first time OU and the Longhorns have met outside of Dallas since 1923.
But Riley also must worry about Ohio State. At game’s end against the Longhorns, his utmost desire is to hoist a trophy to celebrate a conference championship that’s so impressive it’ll earn OU a spot in the playoffs. The Buckeyes meet Northwestern later Saturday for the Big Ten title.
The top three spots seem hardened in iron. The College Football Playoff committee surely will invite Alabama, Clemson and Notre Dame.
Georgia currently holds the fourth spot and is viewed as the top one-loss squad in the country. But the Bulldogs, who beat OU in last year’s semifinals, play the Crimson Tide for the SEC championship. Given that Bama has beaten every opponent this season by at least 20 points, it’s difficult to foresee Georgia pulling off an upset.
So that leaves the Buckeyes and Sooners fighting for fourth. Does the Big 12 have a good enough reputation to stay ahead of the Big Ten?
“I’m confident in the way we play ball, confident in the way this league plays ball from top to bottom,” Riley said Monday. “If we keep winning, hopefully we’ll keep checking off the list and moving forward.”
Oklahoma is ahead of Ohio State in both major polls, with the CFP to come Tuesday. The Buckeyes were trending downward a week ago after barely easing past Maryland. But Ohio State walloped fourth-ranked Michigan, 62-39, and reversed its CFP fortunes.
Which team deserves it more?
It’s an interesting debate this week, but a discussion with no answer.
You’d think OU would be in better position if they beat ninth-ranked Texas to avenge their lone loss. The Sooners are averaging nearly nine yards a play. If it holds through the remaining games, it would break the NCAA record.
But the reputation of the defense is like a two-ton anchor. The Sooners rank last in the Big 12 and 111th nationally in total defense, allowing 449 yards a game. West Virginia, which generated 704 yards against OU last Friday, knocked OU behind woeful Texas Tech for worst Big 12 defense.
TCU coach Gary Patterson, who played both teams, provided his observations about them during his post-game press conference Saturday night. He gives OU the edge.
His Horned Frogs lost to the Buckeyes in Arlington in mid-September, 40-28. Two of the Ohio State touchdowns were scored by their defense. TCU fell to OU in October in Fort Worth, 52-27.
“I can tell you this much, having been a defensive guy in this league, I’m looking forward to everyone else defending (Oklahoma) instead of me,” Patterson said. “All I’m saying is I’m a coach, I just watch. I played Ohio State. I saw what they did to Michigan today. I’m telling you, I played both. I know who I would rather play again. And who I wouldn’t.”
The Buckeyes are favored to beat No. 21 Northwestern. But if they jump ahead of OU in the CFP this week, will an OU win over No. 9 Texas be enough for the Sooners to retake the advantage?.
Dusty Dvoracek, a former OU defensive lineman who is now an ESPN college football analyst, sees it Sooners all the way.
He posted on Twitter: “I really don’t see how it could be anything different! Putting Ohio St over OU would be ridiculous regardless of metrics or eye test!”
But if the Longhorns win, proving their 48-45 victory in October was no fluke, it’s an OU moot point.