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OU football: This time, a rally back to the College Football Playoff is more unlikely

Lincoln Riley is talking brave. And you can’t blame him. History is on his side.

For the fourth time in the last five seasons, the Sooners hit November with a 7-1 record and an October conference defeat. All three previous times, OU won out and reached the College Football Playoff.

So you can’t be too discouraged by the Sooners’ 48-41 loss at Kansas State on Saturday. They’ve recovered from worst defeats — at least K-State cracked the AP top 25 this week. The same couldn’t be said for Texas 2015 or Iowa State 2017 the week after upsetting the Sooners.

“Not at all,” Riley said Monday. “Those other years, I think we had a team we felt was very capable … we felt like didn’t put our best foot forward and knew we were capable of more and were very motivated to get it done.

“I feel no different. I think this team is just as capable as teams we’ve had in the past. We’ve got to narrow our focus. We can’t worry about all that on the outside. We’ve got to get back to playing our very best ball on all three sides. And if we do that, I think it’ll take care of itself.”

Maybe. But an Oklahoma rally to the promised land seems more difficult this time. The reasons are many.

Starting with the SEC. The Southeastern Conference placed two teams in the four-team playoff in 2017 and seems likely to do it again.

LSU’s résumé is packed, and Alabama is Alabama. Could a 12-1 Oklahoma get the jump over a one-loss LSU or Bama? Hard to fathom.

The SEC hype machine is always churning, but this season it’s deserved. The SEC posted the majority of the best non-conference victories in the nation — Auburn over Oregon, LSU over Texas, Georgia over Notre Dame.

Five SEC teams were in the playoff chase until Saturday, when LSU beat Auburn, and another will be eliminated this week in the Georgia-Florida cocktail party. But LSU, Alabama and the Georgia-Florida winner would be hard for a one-loss OU to jump.

And the Big Ten’s ascension is a new hurdle. The Sooners beat out one-loss Iowa and Ohio State in 2015, one-loss Wisconsin in 2017 and one-loss Ohio State in 2018.

This season, three Big Ten teams remain unbeaten — Ohio State, Penn State and Minnesota. Would the committee anoint the Sooners over an 11-1 Ohio State or Penn State? Maybe not. The Sooners’ non-conference schedule has gone bust.

In 2015, the Sooners won at Neyland Stadium, and it’s easy to forget now, but those Volunteers were a solid team. Tennessee was 8-4 and 23rd in the final playoff committee rankings. In 2017, the Sooners won at Ohio State, which was a virtual free pass to the playoffs. And in 2018, Army’s surprising season gave the Sooners a little boost, after UCLA proved to be a dud.

But in 2019, there is no Ohio State. There’s not even an Army. Both UCLA and Houston are 3-5.

And it’s not like the Big 12 is providing a long line of marquee opponents. In 2015, the Sooners were ranked 15th in the committee’s inaugural rankings, with a 7-1 record. But still on the schedule were Baylor, TCU and OSU. That trio was ranked sixth, 18th and 11th by the committee at the time they played the Sooners.

That’s why OU’s best hope for rising is continued success by Baylor. The 7-0 Bears are ranked 12th in the AP poll and could be a top-10 team when they host OU on Nov. 16. And an Oklahoma-Baylor Big 12 Championship Game between 11-1 teams would be an invaluable schedule boost.

Heck, even the Pac-12 could be a problem for OU. Both Oregon and Utah are 7-1 and could meet in the Pac-12 title game, each with only one loss. Particularly Oregon would have a compelling case as a 12-1 team.

Maybe the Sooners can make the playoff. They’ve done it before. But this trip back to the College Football Playoff seems more harrowing than ever before.

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Inside

Onside kick issue discussed by Big 12 director of officials, Page B3

Related Photos
<strong>Oklahoma quarterback Jalen Hurts watches from the sideline during the final moments of Saturday's loss at Kansas State. [AP Photo/Charlie Riedel]</strong>

Oklahoma quarterback Jalen Hurts watches from the sideline during the final moments of Saturday's loss at Kansas State. [AP Photo/Charlie Riedel]

<figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-3ef75146186167332a6148b5ff884ff4.jpg" alt="Photo - Oklahoma quarterback Jalen Hurts watches from the sideline during the final moments of Saturday's loss at Kansas State. [AP Photo/Charlie Riedel] " title=" Oklahoma quarterback Jalen Hurts watches from the sideline during the final moments of Saturday's loss at Kansas State. [AP Photo/Charlie Riedel] "><figcaption> Oklahoma quarterback Jalen Hurts watches from the sideline during the final moments of Saturday's loss at Kansas State. [AP Photo/Charlie Riedel] </figcaption></figure>
Berry Tramel

Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,... Read more ›

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