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  • Baker Mayfield and Oklahoma had no problem with West Virginia in its regular-season finale. Now, the next step is simple for the Sooners: win the Big 12 title game and all but assure a playoff spot.
By Chris Johnson
November 25, 2017

Oklahoma knew its opponent in the Big 12 championship game when it kicked off its regular-season finale against West Virginia on Saturday. The Sooners would be facing TCU on Dec. 2 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, and a win, in all likelihood, would clinch them a place in the College Football Playoff.

But Oklahoma didn’t play like it was looking ahead. Instead, it crushed the Mountaineers, 59–31, in Norman to move to 11–1 and extend its winning streak to seven. The Sooners’ next steps are pretty straightforward. If they topple the Horned Frogs for the second time in a month in the league title bout, they’ll almost definitely be invited to the national semifinals.

A week after generating negative headlines over his sideline comportment during a 41–3 win over Kansas, Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield reminded the college football world why he’s arguably the most compelling player to watch on the field. The Heisman Trophy frontrunner completed his first eight pass attempts and charred West Virginia’s defense for 281 passing yards and three touchdowns.

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Sooners coach Lincoln Riley had said that Mayfield wouldn’t start on Saturday because of his conduct in Lawrence last week, but Mayfield entered the game after only one offensive series led by redshirt sophomore backup Kyler Murray, a two-play sequence punctuated by a four-yard rushing touchdown from sophomore tailback Rodney Anderson. Murray later replaced Mayfield in the third quarter, with the outcome already secure.

One of the reasons Mayfield was so effective Saturday was the Mountaineers’ inability to home in on shutting down Oklahoma’s passing game. If they focused too much on what the Sooners were trying to accomplish through the air, they might have left open even larger holes to run through for Anderson, who continued his late-season tear by churning out 118 yards and four touchdowns on only 13 carries (9.1 YPC).

Oklahoma’s win brings the Big 12 one step closer to a favorable postseason situation. After being ridiculed over a frenzied expansion saga that ultimately didn’t lead to the conference adding to its ranks, the Big 12 finds itself in a promising position as the revelation of the playoff field nears. The Sooners are all but assured a bid if they win next week, but the Big 12 could be represented in the final four even if Oklahoma flops.

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The Horned Frogs could have a case if they can avenge their 18-point, Nov. 11 defeat at Memorial Stadium. They would have no bad losses (at Iowa State on Oct. 28, at Oklahoma on Nov. 11), seven wins over teams with .500 records or better and a marquee triumph over a likely top-five opponent recorded the day before the committee unveils the national semifinal matchups.

TCU would face really long odds, especially after Alabama’s loss to Auburn earlier Saturday (the Crimson Tide could get in even without winning the SEC), but there’s a slight chance the Horned Frogs could snatch a CFP spot if some things break their way in other Power 5 conferences next week. Though it’s clear the Big 12’s best bet for playoff inclusion is to have Oklahoma win its league title tilt, all hope may not be lost for the league in the event of an upset.

As selection Sunday nears, the Big 12’s path to the CFP is clear. The conference is not guaranteed a berth, but the Big 12’s postseason prospects are preferable to what they were a year ago, when the league’s highest-ranked team was Oklahoma, at No. 7. The Sooners will do better this time around as long as they can subdue an opponent on a neutral field that they handled at home last month.