Welcome to the party, Oklahoma.
The Sooners made their first appearance among the top four, landing at No. 3 in the fourth edition of the College Football Playoff rankings released on Tuesday evening. Oklahoma jumped over unbeaten Iowa and 10-1 Notre Dame to land in the third spot.
“Close calls, small differences, tough decisions,” committee chairman Jeff Long said, summarizing this week’s debates about the rankings.
The Sooners, ranked No. 7 last week, jumped to No. 3 after a 30-29 win over then-No. 18 TCU. Last Saturday’s win gave Oklahoma back-to-back victories over top-25 opponents. The Sooners’ strong play after their 24-17 loss to Texas on Oct. 10 has gone a long way to muting any of the committee's concerns over that setback. Oklahoma has gone 6-0, winning games by an average of 32.2 points since the loss to 4-6 Texas.
“It’s more a function of how Oklahoma has performed since that loss,” Long said. “They’ve overcome that loss with their play on the field with six wins over teams with .500-or-better records.”
Oklahoma, with No. 11 Oklahoma State as its last remaining game, appears to be in a “win-and-they’re-in” scenario. However, the Sooners would be wise to tread lightly before counting themselves among the playoff teams, even with a Bedlam win over the Cowboys. After all, we’ve already seen a Big 12 team ranked No. 3 heading into its final regular-season game drop out of the playoff bracket completely. That team was TCU, which thrashed Iowa State 55-3 in its 2014 finale. Still, the Horned Frogs dropped from No. 3 to No. 6 in the final rankings.
“Last year is no indication of things that are happening this year,” Long said when asked directly about Oklahoma experiencing a similar fate as TCU in 2014. “They [Oklahoma] need to play well, they need to win their game and add to their final body of work against Oklahoma State.”
Baylor appears to be in a pretty good spot at No. 7, moving up from No. 10 after a 45-35 road win over then-No. 6 Oklahoma State last weekend. The committee’s respect for Art Briles’ team gets clearer with each passing week, with Baylor landing ahead of No. 8 Ohio State, also a one-loss team. In fact, Baylor’s win over Oklahoma State could have played a key role in helping push Oklahoma past Notre Dame and Iowa into the No. 3 spot as the Sooners' triumph in Waco, Texas, looks better by the day.
Long also regarded Baylor’s ability to keep rolling with Chris Johnson, its No. 3 quarterback, as a sign of the overall quality of the Bears' squad. Johnson entered Baylor’s win over Oklahoma State in the second half after starter Jarrett Stidham was injured. Johnson went on to throw a pair of touchdowns while helping the Bears secure the double-digit win.
“It speaks to the strength of that overall team that they could continue to perform at a high level,” Long said.
Baylor faces No. 18 TCU on Friday, giving Briles' team another opportunity to add a road win over a top-25 team. Yet the Notre Dame-Stanford winner has an even better opportunity to cement its résumé with a win over a top-10 team this weekend.
Nonetheless, the respect shown the Bears in the past two rankings should provide plenty of belief that the Bears’ playoff hopes are alive and well.
Outside of the top 10, Oklahoma State dropped from No. 6 to No. 11 after the loss to Baylor, but could rebound with a win over the third-ranked Sooners. That could put the Cowboys back into the race for a New Year's Six bowl. TCU, after its one-point loss to Oklahoma, dropped one spot to No. 19 and also could put itself into the conversation for a New Year's Six bowl with a win over No. 7 Baylor on Friday.