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Though not playoff bound, Sooners deliver season worth celebrating

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Bob Stoops is not going to second-guess rankings (1:47)

Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops explains why he is not second-guessing the top four teams in the College Football Playoff rankings and why the Sooners could have changed their fate had they not lost to Ohio State earlier this season. (1:47)

NORMAN, Okla. -- Baker Mayfield jumped and skipped around Owen Field like he’d just won the Super Bowl.

Later, the Sooners celebrated the program’s 10th Big 12 championship in a new locker room still under construction.

“I wanted the seniors to have a piece of it, a taste of it, what they’ve left behind,” coach Bob Stoops said.

In a resounding 38-20 victory over Oklahoma State on Saturday, the Sooners got a taste of what could’ve been. And what still might be down the road.

Despite entering the season with massive expectations, Oklahoma failed to make the College Football Playoff on Sunday, a result that was foregone long before Bedlam. The Sooners had been holding out hope mass chaos might reign elsewhere to catapult them back into the playoff mix. But Oklahoma’s playoff fate ultimately was dimmed in a Week 1 loss to Houston. Then doomed in a Week 3 defeat to Ohio State.

In the end, this was never quite a playoff team.

Yet still, one to be celebrated.

Oklahoma refused to capitulate after a disastrous September. And rallied to become the first team to run the table in the Big 12 in seven years, gradually progressing with every week. That culminated with Oklahoma’s most impressive performance of the year in a convincing win over the Pokes.

"Just very satisfying," Stoops said. "They had a great, positive attitude. The guys just kept improving each and every week.”

And so, Oklahoma moves on to face Auburn in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. Not where the Sooners wanted to be before the season. But where everyone else in the Big 12 wishes they could be.

“We have been through a lot this year but we kept fighting -- we’re fighters,” said linebacker Ogbonnia Okoronkwo.

The Sooners began watching classic boxing matches before games this season, an homage to the Youngstown, Ohio, roots of Bob and Mike Stoops, who grew up with legendary lightweight boxer Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini.

The Sooners took their share of jabs this year. The two losses in September. The defensive meltdown at Texas Tech. Losing superstar wideout Dede Westbrook to a concussion in the first half of Bedlam.

But like Rocky Balboa, Oklahoma kept getting up. Kept swinging back.

“I’m just really proud of this group, to endure what we’ve had to endure all year, with everybody telling you everything you’re not," said Mike Stoops, Oklahoma’s defensive coordinator. "They just stayed with it.”

Who knows what might’ve happened if Westbrook’s hamstring had been healthy in September. Or if Mayfield had been his usual efficient self in the opener at Houston. Or if the Buckeyes had, uh, somehow gotten lost on the way to Norman.

Nevertheless, this turned out to be a terrific season for the Sooners.

"Couldn’t be more pleased with the way we continued to improve and work through the season," Bob Stoops said.

And now, with Mayfield coming back for his senior season, Oklahoma has plenty to build on for next year, to along go with a springboard bout for 2017 with an SEC foe in New Orleans.

“The ultimate goal is to play for a national championship,” said Mayfield, who is now 21-4 as Oklahoma’s starting quarterback.

The Sooners didn’t get there this year. But they've still had a season worth celebrating.

And much still to look forward to.