With Iowa State’s victory over Texas on Friday, Oklahoma’s path back to the Big 12 Championship Game is now crystal clear: win their last two games and play the Cyclones for their sixth straight conference crown.
This week’s game at West Virginia was postponed to Dec. 12 after the Sooners were stricken by COVID-19.
Next week’s game against Baylor is in Norman.
Win those two games and OU is back in the title game, where the Sooners can win their 14th Big 12 title (almost five times more any other Big 12 team) and their 50th overall conference crown (most in college football history).
Who knows what will transpire over the next three weeks? COVID could determine a lot.
“One thing we always say in the locker room,” said OU defensive end Ronnie Perkins, “is it’s a crazy year in college football. A lot of crazy things happen.”
There’s only one remote scenario in which OU wins its final two games and doesn’t get a spot in Arlington: Oklahoma State wins out (vs. Texas Tech, at TCU, at Baylor), Kansas State wins out (at Baylor, vs. Texas) and Iowa State loses its finale (against West Virginia) next week in Ames.
That would force a three-way tie for first place between OU, OSU and ISU (all at 7-2), and with each team 1-1 against the other two, the next tiebreaker is record against the next-highest team in the final standings. If it’s K-State, that doesn’t favor the Sooners: OU lost to K-State, while OSU and ISU both beat the Wildcats. In that scenario, it’s Cowboys and Cyclones at AT&T Stadium on Dec. 19.
But that scenario looks more and more unlikely. K-State has lost three in a row and is coming off a 45-0 loss to the Cyclones. Iowa State has won four in a row at Jack Trice Stadium since dropping its opener to Louisiana. And OSU has lost two of its last three, with its last two wins by a combined five points.
Essentially, the Sooners — once 0-2 in conference play — now control their own destiny. If Oklahoma wins out, any loss by Kansas State or Oklahoma State guarantees OU’s place in the title game.
“That feels really good,” said OU quarterback Spencer Rattler. “That was our mindset the whole time, no matter where we are at. We fought back. We’re in a good spot right now. We have two games ahead of us. We’re just taking it day-by-day, game-by-game.”
It’s a familiar spot in which a lot of players on this year’s team have been before. Regular-season losses to Kansas State, Texas and Iowa State each of the previous three seasons didn’t break the Sooners’ Big 12 stranglehold. In fact, dropping those games didn’t even keep OU out of the College Football Playoff.
With two losses, any hope for the playoff is a serious stretch now, but the conference title streak can live on with three more wins.
Back when the Sooners were 1-2 on the season, it was en vogue in the media and among the fan base to calculate this year’s losses as high as four or five. Yet, here they sit with a good chance at going 8-2 and a clear shot at winning another title.
And not just that, but OU’s average score during this five-game winning streak is 50-22.
How they pull off this kind of turnaround?
“Magic,” Perkins said. “Shoot, just trusting the process, really, as a team. Not getting down after those two losses. Coach (Lincoln Riley) kept us in it, he kept us fighting. At the end of the day, we always knew somehow, some way it can work out in our favor, which it is.
“Early in the season, coaches told us to keep fighting, don’t give up on the season even though we had two losses early. ‘Don’t give up, keep fighting, let’s win out and you never know what can happen.’ ”
“Well,” said Rattler, “as a team, we've just kinda came together, I would say, after those two tough games we had early on. We knew we had to flip a switch quick, knowing that we don’t have many shots at this — especially this year. So as a group, we just re-locked in, refocused and did our job.”
Not wanting to be the team that breaks the title streak is a strong motivating factor.
“Of course it’s the goal that we’ve been thinking about,” said offensive tackle Adrian Ealy. “Of course it’s gonna be hard. Of course you want to keep on the tradition that’s been happening over the years.”
Like Rattler said, “we don’t have a losing mentality at this program.” So losing two close games — starting conference play 0-2 for the first time since 1998 — helped refocus a painfully young roster.
“You think about after every loss, there’s always something you can go do and change and fix,” said cornerback Tre Brown. “I think that’s the beauty of when you lose, you have to go in there and see what you can correct and do better, and I feel like everybody came in and bought in and said, ‘We’re tired of losing. That’s not really us.’ We went in there and made some changes and corrections. Everybody bought in and it’s been going ever since we’ve believed in ourselves.”
Said Rattler, “We’re used to winning around here. We knew we had to turn it up a notch and work harder in practice and do the little things more. Game-by-game, we just improved and improved. You could just see it keep going. We still have work to do and we’re going to get that done.”
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