A month ago the thought of Oklahoma making a fourth consecutive trip to the College Football Playoffs was laughable. However, after winning five straight and outscoring their last four opponents by a combined score of 198-64 there is a glimmer of hope. Additionally, when you couple that with the Sooners coming in at number 11 in the first College Football Playoff rankings it doesn’t seem quite as impossible as it wants was. With that, we’ll try to unpack the scenarios that could answer the question, does Oklahoma have a path to the playoffs in 2020?
First things first
In order for the Sooners to get back into the playoff discussion a seventh straight Big 12 championship first must be attained. But, even at that, Oklahoma needs a few things to go their way. It’s a given that the Sooners will need to beat West Virginia and Baylor in the last two remaining games of the season. Even with that, Oklahoma would need Iowa State or Texas to win out or avoid Kansas State finishing fourth in a three-way tie situation where the Sooners would be left out. Ultimately, an Oklahoma versus Iowa State rematch would be the most impactful win to get the Sooners back into the playoff mix.
With three weeks in the regular season left, the rooting interest for the Sooners would set up in the following way. Iowa State needs to defeat Texas in Austin on Friday and then defeat West Virginia at home on December 5th. Any game(s) that Kansas State loses would be beneficial so a Wildcat loss at Baylor on Saturday and/or a home loss to Texas would be music to the Sooners ears. If Iowa State wins their next two games, it will likely set up a top 10 matchup for the Big 12 championship. Beating a team that you lost to previously is always high on the committee’s wish list.
What needs to happen nationally?
Admittedly, the path to the playoffs is a little more congested than in years past. However, if we’ve learned anything in 2020 we know that we can expect the impossible. At number 11, Oklahoma has to navigate seven spots in four more weeks of action. We’ll go conference by conference looking at the scenarios in which the Sooners can get back into the playoffs.
For Oklahoma, cheering for Alabama to win is nearly on the same level as cheering for Oklahoma State or Texas. But, the worst scenario for Oklahoma is to see any conference but especially the SEC conference get two teams in the College Football Playoffs. So, Alabama defeating Auburn, Arkansas, and likely Florida in the SEC championship game is the best path forward. Florida is the next most likely team with a chance to make the playoffs. As long as the Gators lose to Alabama in the championship game, it doesn’t matter what happens for the remaining games that Florida is in.
Texas A&M is the big wildcard sitting at number five in this week’s rankings. The Aggies would need Alabama to lose twice in order to make it to the SEC title game. But, they might prefer it that way right now barely on the outside looking in. Even without a conference championship, Texas A&M is ripe for sneaking into the playoffs. The good news for Oklahoma fans is that the Aggies do not have an easy schedule. They host LSU, travel to Auburn and Tennessee. A loss in one of those three games likely gives Oklahoma the advantage over Texas A&M and Florida as two-loss nonconference champions.
The situation is very similar in the ACC as Oklahoma cannot see the conference get two participants into the playoffs. There are multiple options that the Sooners could see here as beneficial to their case. The first option would be for Notre Dame to win out against North Carolina, Syracuse, Wake Forest, and finally Clemson in the conference championship game. This would essentially eliminate Clemson from contention while Notre Dame could be the only participant. Or, the Sooners could see North Carolina beat Notre Dame on Saturday and then see Clemson defeat Notre Dame in the championship game. Miami has an outside chance of making some noise as well. However, the same will apply with Clemson needing to beat Miami in that championship game.
The Big 10 is not as replete with scenarios as other conferences are. Ultimately, the Sooners just need to see Ohio State roll through the remainder of the season undefeated. The Buckeyes threw three interceptions and allowed nearly 500 yards passing and still won last week. So, it’s hard to see them dropping a game. But, standing in their way is Northwestern. The Wildcats are currently undefeated and check-in at number eight this week. They are a relative lock to make the championship game after their win over Wisconsin last week. The Wildcats are likely to head to the Big 10 championship undefeated with Michigan State, Minnesota, and Illinois remaining. But, with all that being said, anything less than a Buckeye running of the table is damaging to the Sooners’ chances.
The Cincinnati Bearcats are the highest-ranked G5 conference team since the playoffs started at number seven. Simply put, Oklahoma needs to Bearcats to drop a game. The problem is that there will be few opportunities for that to happen. Cincinnati has had its game against Temple on Saturday canceled due to Covid issues at Temple. Unless they get a game scheduled for December 5th, Cincinnati will be off until December 12th when they travel to Tulsa. It will likely be the first of two back to back matchups as both teams are undefeated at this time. If Oklahoma could get a favor from their friends up the turnpike, it could be exactly what the Sooners need.