6 Reasons Bob Stoops Has Oklahoma Set for a National Title Run in 2014
There is no clearer path to the first-ever College Football Playoff than a Big 12 championship.
Featuring strength of schedule ratings above that of the Big Ten or ACC and without the bother of a conference title game, the Big 12 offers its member schools an amazing opportunity to earn a place in the inaugural mini-bracket.
At least for now, until the era of the super-conference swoops in and changes all the rules.
The program in the best position to cash in on this golden setup? Well, in 2014 that’s Bob Stoops and the Oklahoma Sooners, the team that ESPN’s Mark Schlabach has at No. 5 in his post-signing day Top 25.
That’s five slots ahead of Baylor at No. 10, and 17 places better than Texas at No. 22.
Though Oklahoma’s stunning win over No. 3 Alabama in the Sugar Bowl will give it something delicious to chew on this offseason, the Sooners were trending before the Tide were even on the radar.
After getting smacked down at No. 3 Baylor on Nov. 7, Oklahoma bounced back with a 38-point win over Iowa State, a 10-point victory at K-State and then upset No. 6 Oklahoma State on the road to close out the regular season.
The Sooners scored more than 40 points in three of their last four games and had back-to-back victories over Top 10 ranked teams.
Oklahoma’s highest AP ranking of the year—No. 6—came in the final poll.
This is a program that has proven to itself that it can square off with any team in the nation, and win. You simply can’t put a value on confidence.
The State of the Big 12
Of the three Big 12 teams that posted double-digit wins in 2013, Oklahoma is the only one with a healthy amount of starters returning.
Baylor—which captured its first conference title since 1994 last season—brings only nine back, which gives it a No. 10 rank in the Big 12 and No. 122 in the FBS.
Oklahoma State, which went 10-3 in 2013, also brings back a mere nine, tying it in the rankings with the Bears.
The Sooners, on the other hand, bring back 14 starters in 2014, No. 4 in the Big 12 and No. 48 in the FBS.
The two most experienced Big 12 programs coming into 2014 are Iowa State and Kansas (with 16 starters apiece), but, of course, these are teams that both went 3-9 last season.
The wild card is Texas—once again—which brings back 13 for new coach Charlie Strong. If Strong can finally weave the Longhorns’ talented threads into a winning tapestry, the Red River Rivalry will decide who represents the league in the new Playoff.
Any legitimate national title run begins with a foundation built by four solid years of recruiting.
This is a requirement that Oklahoma has continued to fulfill, meaning that it is a real threat to go all the way in any given year, not unlike programs such as Florida, Auburn or Ohio State.
According to Rivals, the Sooners have signed top 15-ranked classes each of the previous four seasons, and notably, they’ve out-gunned Texas each of the last two years.
Oklahoma’s four-year average class ranking is 13.5, which is No. 12 in the FBS. This puts it in elite company and ahead of programs like Texas A&M (14.75), Oregon (18) and Stanford (26).
To put this into perspective in the Big 12, here are some comparative average rankings: Texas (12), Oklahoma State (30), Texas Tech (35), TCU (37), Baylor (38), West Virginia (39), Kansas (52), K-State (59) and Iowa State (63).
Included in Oklahoma’s returning totals are nine members of a defensive unit that finished 2013 ranked No. 22 in the FBS in scoring.
That’s the entire front seven back from the No. 24-ranked rushing defense and two back to a secondary that ranked No. 30 versus the pass.
Though the offense only welcomes back five starters from a year ago, the total includes quarterback Trevor Knight and three members of the offensive line, which led the way for the No. 18-ranked rushing attack in the FBS.
Yes, there are holes to fill, but remember that these holes will be filled with top-ranked recruits, a scenario which is not the case at places like Baylor and Oklahoma State.
Oklahoma’s 2014 schedule sets up well for a national title run.
The Sooners replace their 2013 road trip to Notre Dame with a home game against Tennessee, a team which ought to improve in Butch Jones’ second season but won’t be all-world.
The other non-conference foes are Louisiana Tech (a team which Oklahoma has never faced) and Tulsa, which the Sooners have beaten by more than 30 points in each of their last four meetings.
True road trips are limited to West Virginia, TCU, Iowa State and Texas Tech, meaning Oklahoma gets K-State, Baylor and Oklahoma State at home in Norman.
The other key advantage to remember for Big 12 teams—including Oklahoma—is that once the regular season is over, it’s really over.
In other words, there is no conference title game, or, no additional game against a high-quality opponent.
This means one fewer opportunity to drop a game late, with the entire nation and Playoff committee watching.
The Stoops Factor
Though Stoops sometimes gets a bad rap for not winning big games—like the national championship games in 2004 and 2005—he has proven he can win the Big 12.
In the 15 years since Stoops took over at Oklahoma in 1999, the Sooners have won a conference title eight times. That’s a whopping 53 percent of the time.
In the BCS era, winning a major conference championship was only significant from a national championship standpoint if your team also went undefeated or was one of the only one-loss teams in the nation.
Otherwise, it meant a solid BCS bowl appearance.
To illustrate, in the eight years that Oklahoma won the Big 12 in the Stoops era, it only ascended to the national title game three times, or 38 percent.
In 2014, winning the Big 12 doesn’t guarantee a spot in the national championship game, but it does mean you’ve got a high percentage chance of making the College Football Playoff.
That is, assuming that the champion can convince the committee that its resume is more deserving than the winner of the ACC, Big Ten, Pac-12 or SEC.
Given the weakness of the Big Ten and the ACC from top to bottom, and despite the lack of a championship game, this puts the Big 12 in a great position for a selection.
And if Stoops has the best odds of winning the Big 12, expect to see him and his Sooners in the first-ever mini-bracket.
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