After Oklahoma stunningly lost to Texas in the Red River Rivalry – the Longhorns entered the game 1-4 – most people probably assumed that the Sooners were out of the College Football Playoff race.
Well, they’re weren’t.
Oklahoma (11-1) has since won seven straight games – by an average margin of 32.6 points per game – and is ranked third in the country.
Did the Sooners think that was possible?
“When you’re in the middle of a season, we’re not like the fans and the media that have to look to the end,” Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said on CBS Sports Radio’s The Doug Gottlieb Show. “You’ve got to play next week. So when you’re traveling through a year like that, our whole mindset was . . . what can we do to make ourselves better, to improve and correct the mistakes or improve in our technique? The guys, the players, had a great attitude to listen to us and really went out and practiced hard. We had a lot of team competitions that continue to make ourselves better. Our coaches improved on some things they were trying to do, and we just went to work. Our whole mantra was to improve each week, and we went to Kansas State the following week and won 55-0 and then kept building on it.”
Oklahoma is idle this week, but it’s assumed that the Sooners are in the playoff. Gottlieb asked Stoops how safe he feels.
“I’m not into percentages, but I don’t know how you could (drop us),” he said. “We did play Oklahoma State there for the Big 12 championship. It was a championship game because whoever won it was going to win it. To go on the road and win by 35, I don’t know how you go down or how you go backwards. Two of our last three games were on the road against top-10 teams and we won. I think we protect ourselves with our scheduling at Oklahoma because of the difficulty of it. We also went to Tennessee to play, who’s also a ranked team. We protect ourselves next year. We have Ohio State for two years. So when you play nine conference games along with a tough out-of-conference schedule, I believe that’s recognized by the committee. I believe that Tennessee win matters to them.”
The Big 12, of course, was left out of the playoff last year, as TCU idly fell from No. 3 to No. 6 in the final week of the season. Stoops, though, does not think the Big 12 needs a conference title game – at least not given how the college is currently constituted.
“I don’t think it works with 10 teams,” said Stoops, who has won nine Big 12 championships. “Of course with 12 teams, it’s a no-brainier and everybody would embrace it and I would want it. I just don’t see it working with 10. I don’t feel it will hurt our league if we’re going to schedule out of conference the way we’ve been scheduling. It isn’t going to hurt us, I don’t believe, if we continue to schedule the way we have. And of course you have to win when you schedule that way.”
Since losing to Texas, Oklahoma has averaged 52 points per game, scoring 58+ points four times.
So yeah, not a bad first year for 32-year-old offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley.
“I felt (confident) in (him in) the spring,” Stoops said. “I loved what we were doing. I knew it had to evolve and continue to mature and get better, but I loved what we were doing and the way Coach Riley was directing it. I felt it in the first week of being on the field with him.”
Gottlieb wonders if Riley will be at Oklahoma next year. After all, there are a lot of head-coaching vacancies right now, and more are sure to come. There’s a good chance that Riley will get some phone calls.
“Oh, I hope he does,” Stoops said. “I’ve had a lot of coaches become head football coaches. I’m always for that. But there’s no sense in speculating on it. I always want that for my coaches, so we’ll see.”