As we enter the first weekend of October, the University of Oklahoma football team doesn’t really look like they miss their Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback from 2017. But there’s a good chance that, just a couple of months from now, they’ll certainly be nostalgic about where he was able to lead them.
After watching Baker Mayfield get taken with the first overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, head coach Lincoln Riley’s offense hasn’t skipped a beat; in fact, it might even be a little better. Through five games this season, the Sooners are 8th in the nation in points per game (48.6) and 12th in the nation in yards per game (523).
Quarterback Kyler Murray, the pro-baseball-bound replacement for Mayfield, is third in the nation in touchdown passes (17), completing over 70% of his passes for a ridiculous 13.4 yards per attempt (the highest in America). Perhaps just as noteworthy is the fact that, at least as of right now, it might be neck-and-neck between him and the University of Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa when it comes to this year’s Heisman Trophy race.
But two months from now, when the college football selection committee sits down to choose their “final four” teams that’ll play in the College Football Playoffs, how much will any of Oklahoma’s above-mentioned accolades really matter?
Football coaches will tell you that they don’t control the schedule, and that the only thing they do control is how prepared their teams are to face the teams on said schedule. That’s 100% true.
But what they also don’t control is the fact that the members of the selection committee aren’t going to be that overly impressed when looking at the Sooners’ early-season wins over programs like Florida Atlantic, UCLA, and Army.
While the second-half of Oklahoma’s schedule features more quality opponents, starting with this weekend’s Red River Shootout against the University of Texas, will running the table be enough to get the Sooners back into the Playoffs?
Do the simple math: assuming the SEC Champion, the Big 10 Champion, and the ACC Champion all finish with the same record as the Sooners. For the sake of argument, let’s assume all of them are undefeated. What happens when the selection committee has to decide between putting Oklahoma, or the loser of the SEC Championship Game – which will almost certainly be between Alabama and Georgia, which just so happens to be a rematch of last year’s National Championship game – as the last team in the playoffs?
For as good as Oklahoma might look on offense, there’s just no way they can make the “résumé” argument (it’s no secret that defense is merely an afterthought in the Big 12) or the “better team” argument (have you seen what Alabama and Georgia are doing to their respective opponents?).
Sure, there’s plenty of football left to be played between now and the end of November. But that doesn’t mean this question is going to go away.
It’s nice when your team scores 49 or more points in three of its first five games. But to borrow from the great philosophical thought experiment that raises questions regarding observation and perception: if the Sooners score a bunch of touchdowns, and nobody else around the nation is there to see it (since it happens against a non-noteworthy opponent), does it even matter?