So Oklahoma lost. It can still win out and get in, right?
As Lee Corso would say: Not so fast.
In the wake of an upset loss to Kansas State, the Sooners are in a worse position than you might think. And even a streak of exclusively wins from here on out may not be enough to overcome their woes in Manhattan.
According to the Allstate Playoff Predictor, Oklahoma currently only has a 10% chance to reach the playoff. Perhaps even more concerning for the folks in Norman: That number only jumps to a 31% chance even if Oklahoma wins out.
That's a surprisingly low number for a Power 5 one-loss champ (especially a non-Pac-12 Power 5). So what's depressing Oklahoma's chances?
Its schedule. Or lack thereof.
Oklahoma would have been much better off had Texas lived up to its preseason hype rather than wither away (just as FPI thought, actually). Instead, the Sooners would likely face Baylor in the Big 12 championship game. Credit is due to Matt Rhule and the undefeated Bears for their start, but FPI still only sees them as the 22nd-best team in football, with over a 90% chance to lose a game before the conference championship game.
The result: Oklahoma's overall schedule (which includes the possibility of a Big 12 championship game and potential opponents in that game) is the 53rd-most difficult in the FBS, from an average top-25 team's perspective. Which means that even with a conference championship, it still may have a problem securing a spot in the playoff.
At this point it appears awfully likely Clemson, the SEC champion and Big Ten champion will each grab a spot. Assuming that plays out, can Oklahoma secure the fourth berth?
Who gets in: 12-1 Oklahoma or 11-1 Alabama/LSU?
The loser of next week's showdown in Tuscaloosa will still be a formidable playoff contender if they otherwise win out, having only lost to one of the best teams in college football.
If it came down to them or a 12-1 Big 12 champion Oklahoma, the committee could go either way: it has the flexibility to decree the importance of conference championships, or go the other way and choose the SEC team because it wants the four best teams. The playoff criteria is vague enough that it can be melded to whatever the committee desires, but I digress.
The Allstate Playoff Predictor is actually quite clear on which route it thinks the committee would go: the SEC team. In the event that this scenario plays out, either LSU or Alabama would rank ahead of Oklahoma in Strength of Record. Yes, even Alabama: The Tide would have won at Auburn at this point, which would certainly be a better win than anything Oklahoma has. The Sooners would have an average Strength of Record rank of 6.7, compared to 2.8 for LSU and 3.8 for Alabama at 11-1 each. In FPI, Alabama (2) and LSU (4) also have the edge on OU (7).
That means the committee could say that Alabama/LSU are both better and, conference championship aside, more accomplished than Oklahoma. This considers the game Oklahoma would have played for a conference championship, it just doesn't give an extra reward for winning the conference -- though the Allstate Playoff Predictor does and doesn't think that makes up the difference.
Who gets in: 12-1 Oklahoma or 12-1 Oregon?
Allstate Playoff Predictor's preference for the SEC team in the last scenario did not surprise me. But its preference for a Pac-12 champ Oregon over a Big 12 champ Oklahoma did. But the more I thought about it, the more it made sense.
Oregon, like Oklahoma, needs to win out and get help to get into the playoff. But, especially with a decent shot of playing Utah in the Pac-12 final, it has a harder schedule. Where Oklahoma ranks 53rd in top-team SOS, Oregon is 33rd.
The Ducks can't play the "better" card the way LSU or Alabama can, but Oklahoma no longer holds a conference championship edge here, either.
Also in this scenario, Oregon would have a better loss: to Auburn rather than Kansas State.
Ultimately this is a closer call for the Allstate Playoff Predictor, but in scenarios where Oregon and Oklahoma win out, the Ducks have a 39% chance to reach the playoff, compared to just 22% for Oklahoma.
What the Sooners need now is clear: win out, and root for chaos.