Play a dozen games and nothing is decided. For No. 3 Oklahoma, it all comes down to the Big 12 Championship Game.
If the Sooners beat No. 11 TCU Saturday (12:30 p.m. ET, FOX) at AT&T Stadium, a third straight conference crown is theirs as is in all likelihood a College Football Playoff spot.
The Sooners (11-1) pointed toward this date all season on their must-do list. Winning the Big 12 title is a task that must be accomplished to reach the ultimate goal of a national championship.
TCU and Oklahoma met at Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium on Nov. 11 in what turned out to be a mismatch. The Sooners scored 5 touchdowns on 7 first-half drives, building a 24-point halftime lead. The Sooners executed at maximum efficiency offensively and won 38-20.
If there was a time when Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield separated himself from the Heisman Trophy pack, it was that night. He threw for 299 yards and 3 touchdowns in the first half. Running back Rodney Anderson put up 289 all-purpose yards and 4 touchdowns.
Can the Sooners replicate the performance?
Here are five things to watch that will indicate whether the Sooners are performing an encore.
1. Rodney Anderson remains dynamic
The Oklahoma running back was terrific in the first meeting against TCU (10-2). It wasn’t only that he ran the ball with force and precision that night. Rodney Anderson was the best receiver on the field, too. He made highly contested catches and broke tackles after doing so. Anderson was the most valuable player of that first meeting.
You can expect TCU to try to take Anderson out of the mix. TCU coach Gary Patterson has the Big 12’s best defensive mind. Anderson likely won’t set any career highs on Saturday. But with the Horned Frogs scheming for Anderson, that means the Sooners have other options, and they feasted on them the first time around.
If tight ends Mark Andrews and Grant Calcaterra have big afternoons, that likely will be because of attention being paid to Anderson. The same goes for wide receivers Marquise Brown and CeeDee Lamb.
The offensive game plan starts with getting the ball to Anderson. It’s up to TCU to stop him.
2. Baker Mayfield remains calm
There’s no reason to think Oklahoma’s quarterback will lose his composure. Patterson tried to get under his skin this week. That was a waste of breath.
Baker Mayfield outplayed every quarterback in college football this season because he stayed in the moment. You could argue he’s gotten better as the season has gone along. He hasn’t thrown an interception since the Bedlam game.
As long as Mayfield stays calm, the Sooners will as well.
3. Oklahoma cannot give up big plays
By every metric, the Sooners have improved defensively. They controlled the Horned Frogs in the Nov. 11 meeting. Where the defense lagged was by giving up chunk plays. Two of TCU’s 3 touchdown drives featured a play of at least 50 yards.
Keep making TCU snap the ball, and Oklahoma will be in good shape. The Horned Frogs haven’t shown they can string together drives of 10 to 12 plays and finish them with touchdowns.
This is the Sooners’ task Saturday. Just keep the Horned Frogs in front of them.
4. Handle the quarterback running game
If TCU coaches and players watched Oklahoma’s game with West Virginia, they saw how much the Sooners struggled stopping the wildcat offense. The Mountaineers rushed for 250 yards and 4 touchdowns.
TCU quarterback Kenny Hill can run the ball and so can his backup, Shawn Robinson. The Horned Frogs don’t need to snap the ball to a running back to have an active runner.
What West Virginia did was a surprise. The Mountaineers lost their starting quarterback a week earlier. They put together the offense on the fly. If the Horned Frogs use it Saturday, it shouldn’t catch anyone off guard.
5. Neutralize TCU’s return game
Playing in a domed stadium should play to the Sooners advantage. Kicker Austin Seibert is the best in the Big 12. He puts 75 percent of his kickoffs into the end zone or through it. The ones that came up short were usually by design or hurt by the wind.
Seibert’s leg is essential because TCU return man KaVontae Turpin is the best in the Big 12 and one of the best in the country. If he’s a difference maker for the Horned Frogs on Saturday, that’s problem for the Sooners.
Special teams are one of the ways underdogs tend to rise. The Sooners cannot afford to let the Horned Frogs off the leash.
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