OU football: Playoff berth isn't surprising for Sooners but is impressive
NORMAN — Oklahoma is returning to the College Football Playoff.
That was no sure thing.
I’m not talking about what had to happen this season after the Sooners lost at Kansas State. The top-25 wins they had to accumulate. The losses other teams had to incur. The chaos that needed to happen.
I’m not even talking about the final hours before the selection committee’s rankings were made known. By Saturday evening, we knew OU would be in. The only question was who the Sooners would play.
The answer came Sunday morning — top-ranked LSU.
But what wasn’t sure was whether a program changing as much as OU did from last season was going to be able to get to the playoff. They lost the Heisman Trophy winner who became the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL Draft. Lost a speedy receiver who was also a first-round pick. Lost four of five offensive linemen, all of whom went to the NFL, too.
Oh, and the Sooners were overhauling their defense, too, though that was a necessary change.
But here the Sooners are, back in the playoff for the third consecutive year and the fourth time in five years.
- Related to this story
- Gallery: OU 30, Baylor 23: Sooners win Big 12 Championship
- Article: Big 12 championship final: OU 30, Baylor 23 (OT)
- Article: OU football: Sooner Schooner runs at Big 12 Championship
- Article: OU football: Gabe Brkic breaks Sooners record for consecutive field goals
- Article: OU football: Brendan Radley-Hiles, Adrian Ealy out for Sooners in second half of Big 12 Championship
- Article: OU 30, Baylor 23: Sooners win Big 12 Championship, improve odds of making College Football Playoff
- Article: OU football: Rhamondre Stevenson scores in overtime to give Sooners lead, win
- Article: OU football report card: Kenneth Murray and Sooners' defense grade out well in Big 12 title game
- Article: 'God works in mysterious ways': OU's Jalen Hurts 'blessed' to win Big 12 championship
- Article: OU football: Sooners make strong closing argument to College Football Playoff selection committee
- Article: OU football: Big 12 Championship Game by the numbers
- Article: OU football: Sooners defense comes up big in overtime to win Big 12 yet again
- Article: OU football: Why Alex Grinch exhaled a bit after Sooners' Big 12 triumph
- Article: OU football: Lincoln Riley trusts his defense and wins fifth straight Big 12 title
- Article: Sooners will face LSU in College Football Playoff
- Article: OU football: Sooners open as underdog to LSU in College Football Playoff semifinals
- Article: OU football: Best, worst from Sooners' Big 12 title win
- Article: OU football: Ticket information for CFP semifinal Peach Bowl
- Article: College football rankings: LSU a tight fit over Ohio State
- Article: OU football: Nick Basquine catches first touchdown of season in Big 12 Championship
- Article: OU football: 5 things to know about LSU
- Article: Peach Bowl assignment shows Sooners have become playoff regulars
- Article: OU football: Little moments throughout the season lifted Sooners into CFP
- Article: OU football: Creed Humphrey named finalist for Rimington Trophy
- Article: Bowl assignments create quite a challenge for Big 12
- Article: Sooners' Jalen Hurts named Heisman Trophy finalist
- Article: Arlington title games different from old days in Kansas City
- Video: OU Football: Sooners to face LSU in Peach Bowl
- Video: Sooners stop Bears - analysis of the Big 12 title game
“It’s been different,” Sooner coach Lincoln Riley acknowledged on ESPN after the playoff pairings were announced, “but you know, it’s to be expected. It was different the last few years, too.”
Turnover in college, unlike the pros, is inherent. Players exhaust their eligibility. New recruits take their place. Rosters change. It happens everywhere.
But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t stop and appreciate teams who continue to excel even in seasons with massive upheaval — and no other team in the playoff this time around replaced more key players or changed more schematically than the Sooners.
They even changed during the season, going from a pass-oriented offense early to a more run-dominant offense late.
“We’ve always taken pride in adapting to the guys we have,” Riley said.
Jalen Hurts has been spectacular — he’ll likely be at the Heisman ceremony next weekend along with LSU quarterback Joe Burrow — but Hurts is different from the Sooners’ last two slingers. He doesn’t stretch the field with long throws as much or as accurately as Baker Mayfield or Kyler Murray did.
No shame in that, by the way. Those two were special in that regard. And yet, Riley and the Sooners have found ways to maximize what Hurts does best.
The Sooners have also found ways to win with defense. They did Saturday in the Big 12 Championship Game, putting the clamps on Baylor much of the game, then tightening the screws in overtime.
Add all of that up, and you’ve got a team bound for the playoff.
Rob Mullens, the Oregon athletic director and selection committee chairman, told ESPN there was some discussion about who should get the fourth playoff spot. LSU, Ohio State and Clemson were all foregone conclusions as undefeated Power 5 conference champs, but the committee discussed OU and Georgia for the fourth and final spot.
Still, it doesn’t sound like there was much debate.
“In the end,” Mullens said, “it was a solid Oklahoma selection for the No. 4 spot.”
Now, the Sooners have become as much of a playoff regular as any program. Clemson and Alabama have the most playoff appearances, five each, but OU is right behind with four. That’s as many as Ohio State (three) and LSU (one) combined.
We shouldn't be surprised when OU makes the playoffs.
This season, however, we should be impressed.
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at 405-475-4125 or email@example.com. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK or follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok.
COWBOYS HEADED TO TEXAS BOWL
Oklahoma State was selected to play in the Texas Bowl vs.Texas A&M.
COLLEGE FOOTBALL PLAYOFF SEMIFINAL
No. 4 Oklahoma vs. No. 1 LSU
• When: 3 p.m., Dec. 28
• Where: Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta
• TV: ESPN (Cox 29)
• Radio: KRXO-FM 107.7