NORMAN, Okla. — The Big 12 Conference reinstituted the conference title game 18 months ago. All 10 teams knew the path to a league title ends at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
The fourth-ranked Sooners (11-1, 8-1 Big 12) understand they have the most to lose when the face No. 12 TCU (10-2, 7-2) at 11:30 a.m. CT on Saturday. That’s fine with them.
“Whether it’s good or bad, I guess that’s all in how you make it,” Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley said on Monday.
When the Big 12 brought the game back, it knew things had changed since the last event in 2010. There were no divisions, meaning a rematch from the regular season was certain.
But there were two other considerations to ponder. The first was financial. The Big 12 expects to pocket $30 million from the game. That’s an extra $3 million to each conference institution.
The other was to make sure the league champion had the best shot to reach the College Football Playoff. The only Big 12 team to do so was Oklahoma in 2015. It didn’t need a boost from that “13th data point” that season. But they don’t appear to need it now. When the latest College Football Playoff rankings are released Tuesday, the Sooners are more likely to be No. 1 or 2 than No. 4.
Riley doesn’t care where Oklahoma is on Tuesday night.
“I’m confident where we’re at with the team, our team,” he said. “I’m confident if we are able to find a way to win this one, that it’ll take care of itself. We’re just going to worry as much as we can about trying to beat TCU.”
Oklahoma isn’t afraid of rematch
One could say this game can only hurt them. It topped the Horned Frogs, 38-20, in a matchup of top 6 teams on Nov. 11 at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. If it wasn’t hard to beat a team twice in the same season, no one would bring up how tough it is.
Those are not concerns to the Sooners.
“It’s exciting,” tackle Orlando Brown said. “As a team, we look forward to it. We’re excited to compete.”
But one has to remember how odd the first game was. It was just 16 days ago. Oklahoma scored touchdowns on five of seven first-half possessions. The showdown between the Big 12’s best offense (the Sooners) and the league’s best defense (TCU) was a mismatch. Oklahoma had a 38-14 halftime lead.
Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield discusses the Big 12 title game on Monday. pic.twitter.com/iWycuL6z39
— John Shinn (@john_shinn) November 27, 2017
What ensued in the second half wasn’t the same.
On Monday, the Sooners expressed their displeasure over not scoring in the second half.
“Offensively, we laid a big ol’ goose egg in the third quarter. That was not good. We didn’t play well,” quarterback Baker Mayfield said. “That was just strictly on our performance and how they played as well. We’ve got to be better. It was a great win when we played them here, this one is for all the marbles. So we’ve got to play better if we want to win it.”
But how hard did the Sooners try to move the ball? Mayfield threw 6 passes in the final 30 minutes. Oklahoma had two drives lasting over 5 minutes that ended in punts. They were more interested in running clock than running the offense at its full extent.
Oklahoma embraces the opportunity
Oklahoma fully knows what’s riding on the game. It can win its third straight Big 12 title on Saturday. Mayfield can solidify himself as the Heisman Trophy winner. The Sooners can leave no doubt it belongs in the College Football Playoff.
Mayfield finished in the top 4 of Heisman Trophy balloting in 2015 and 2016. This platform can only help his candidacy.
Plus, Texans comprise the majority of Oklahoma’s roster. The chance to play a game in AT&T Stadium — the Sooners’ first since the 2013 Cotton Bowl — is enticing.
“It’s fun,” Mayfield said. “That stadium is obviously very special. It’s a neat place, a great atmosphere and then on top of things, being the Big 12 title game, it’s even more exciting. It’s special to me, knowing it’s Cowboys Stadium, it’s one of the symbols of Texas. It’ll be fun to have everybody there.”
Riley said he wished the Sooners had the platform last season. Oklahoma went undefeated in Big 12 play last season. Adding another win could’ve bolstered its 2016 College Football Playoff chances.
“Last year, we would have loved to have it,” Riley said. “Because we were one of those teams that were probably playing some of the best ball in the country. Would have loved to have the chance to have one more great win and maybe sneak into the playoff. It’s going to be different every year. There’s never a perfect answer. We gotta worry about ourselves and try and go play the best we can.”
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