Is Oklahoma out of the College Football Playoff in September? (And didn’t we do this with the Sooners last year)?
That is the big question facing Oklahoma after Kansas State shocked the third-ranked Sooners in a 38-35 stunner at Gaylord Memorial Family Stadium on Saturday. The Wildcats upset the Sooners for the second straight season, and the Big 12 race is now up for grabs in Week 4.
Oklahoma, which has won the last five Big 12 championships and has made three consecutive College Football Playoff appearances under Lincoln Riley, is in big trouble just two games into its season. The Sooners recovered from last year’s 48-41 loss to Kansas State. Can they do it again?
Here are the implications from the first major upset of the 2020 season:
This K-State loss is worse
The Sooners committed four turnovers in the loss to the Wildcats. It didn’t matter in the first half, when quarterback Spencer Rattler hit 17 of 19 passes for 181 yards and three touchdowns. Oklahoma led 21-7. Those two incompletions, however, were interceptions, and prevented the Sooners from turning this into a routine blowout.
Oklahoma still led 35-14 in the third quarter, but the last five possessions amounted to a lost fumble, three punts and a game-ending interception. Kansas State, meanwhile, scored four straight touchdowns in the second half.
The Sooners have more questions than ever. The defense didn’t hold up. The running game isn’t dominant, averaging 3.7 yards per carry in the loss. Rattler, while talented, isn’t on the same Heisman level as Jalen Hurts, Kyler Murray and Baker Mayfield before him.
It’s also how the Sooners lost. In 2019, Oklahoma rallied from a 48-23 deficit in the fourth quarter and nearly recovered an onside kick in the final minute. This time, the Sooners collapsed by giving up 24 unanswered second-half points.
This loss will have consequences.
Sooners will be harder to forgive
Can the Sooners still make the Playoff? Yes, but it will require complete dominance the rest of the way in the Big 12 — not the close shaves that happened last season against Iowa State and Baylor. The Playoff committee doesn’t account for past bowl results, but Oklahoma lost the last three semifinals to SEC schools by an average of 17.3 yards per game.
Oklahoma is now lumped into that one-loss crowd, and given the natural imbalances in the schedule, it’s going to be harder to get back into the four-team mix this year — at least at the outset — given there isn’t a nonconference victory to bank on (see: 2017).
That said, it can be done. Rattler will need to be much better, however.
OU lacks Heisman factor at QB
Hurts helped carry the Sooners back to the Playoff last season with a phenomenal end-of-season-stretch. He finished second in the Heisman Trophy voting, and that helped the Sooners’ perception in the polls.
Rattler isn’t there yet. He finished 30 of 41 passing for 387 yards, four touchdowns and three interceptions. But he doesn’t offer the same threat in the running game that Hurts, Murray and even Mayfield did the last three seasons. That’s a problem considering running back Kennedy Brooks opted out and Trey Sermon transferred to Ohio State. The Sooners have some exciting young pieces on offense, but they haven’t played in the big-game situations yet.
That is an unfair expectation, but it’s also the standard Oklahoma created for itself.
Oklahoma wants Texas to be back
Oklahoma lost to Texas in 2018 but still managed to make the Playoff. The Sooners might want to root for the Longhorns the rest of the way, except for the Red River Rivalry. Oklahoma State was the only other ranked team in this weeks’ polls, and the same Kansas State team that just pulled this upset has already lost to Arkansas State.
Oklahoma needs Texas to be undefeated for the Oct. 10 matchup, and a rematch in the Big 12 championship game won’t hurt. That might be the Big 12’s best path back to the College Football Playoff picture.