ESPN’s “College Game Day” heads to for Stillwater for Saturday’s Bedlam game — a showdown that carries significant College Football Playoff implications.
No. 5 Oklahoma’s path is clear cut: win and they’re in; No. 11 Oklahoma State needs quite a bit of help, but a victory over its in-state rival would put the Cowboys on the right path.
Coach Bob Stoops’s loss to underwhelming Texas in the Red River Shootout lit a fire in Norman, and the Sooners have won six straight by an average margin of 32.2 points. Last week’s 30-29 near-collapse win over Texas Christian was the closest game for Stoops’s outfit this season.
Mike Gundy’s Cowboys were the last remaining unbeaten team in the Big 12 Conference, but fell to Baylor last week, 45-35. Often praised for their above-average defense, the Cowboys’ offense has put up at least 30 points in 10 consecutive games.
Oklahoma’s success has coincided with the rise of Baker Mayfield, who transferred to the program and sat out last season. He’s completed 68.7 percent of his passes, thrown for 3,209 yards and 33 touchdowns. Behind Mayfield and a defense that ranks fourth in efficiency, the Sooners have beaten two College Football Playoff-ranked opponents this year.
Not only can Mayfield produce long plays in the passing game (he’s completing 55 percent of throws of 20-plus yards, per Pro Football Focus), he is also remarkably agile in the open field, capable of blistering a defense on the ground.
Mayfield’s name has been mentioned in Heisman Trophy discourse, with good reason, despite his exiting four of the past six games early — including missing the second half of last week’s victory. His numbers stack up favorably to past Heisman winners Jameis Winston and Johnny Manziel through Week 11 of their respective campaigns.
“He has made plays with legs, and his ability to run has kept drives going and has moved the chains,” Gundy said this week. “He’s been a really good player.”
ESPN’s Football Power Index crunches data on every play of every game of the season, adjusts it based on the quality of the opposing team, and aims to indicate how many points above or below average a team is. The Sooners are found at the apex of the leader board, while the Cowboys are ranked 14th.
Oklahoma State, however, is touting an above-average defense in efficiency — one that has a conference-leading five defensive touchdowns this season.
Defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer employs the NCAA’s active sack leader, Emmanuel Ogbah, who has the potential to flip the game on its head and leads the nation with 66 total quarterback disruptions, per Pro Football Focus.
Gundy’s outfit doesn’t hurt its chances with penalties (5.91 per game; fourth in the Big 12), and protects the ball (plus-1.36 turnover margin; leads the Big 12 and ranks third nationally). Mason Rudolph is one the most accurate and efficient quarterbacks in the Big 12, and generates better than 14 yards per completion.
“The two quarterbacks, Rudolph and (J.W.) Walsh, do a great job complementing one another,” Stoops said this week.
The Sooners have 84 all-time wins against the Cowboys, which is the most wins the program has against any opponent. They hold a .803 winning percentage, and are 36-7-5 (.802) in Stillwater. With a magnetic quarterback in midst of a transcendent season and arguably the top defense in the Big 12 Conference, the Sooners shouldn’t have much difficulty punching their ticket to the College Football Playoff with a win Saturday.
Josh Planos has been published at the Wall Street Journal, the Atlantic, the Guardian, the Pacific Standard and VICE, among other publications. He has been heard on CBS Sports Radio, Fox Sports Radio and ESPN Radio. Planos is currently a Digital Editor at KETV NewsWatch 7 and a freelance writer.