BCS Standings 2011: Mapping out Oklahoma Sooners' Path to the National Title
This past weekend the first BCS rankings came out and the Oklahoma Sooners found themselves at the three spot, behind LSU and Alabama. OU will have to play almost perfectly throughout the rest of the season if it plans to play for the national championship.
I've put together a road map of five keys games and five things that need to happen to ensure that Oklahoma makes it into the national championship game. If all of these things don't happen, Oklahoma could see itself on the outside looking in.
What are the keys to getting the Sooners into the biggest game of the year? Read on to find out.
Thing That Must Happen: Improve Red-Zone Offense
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Last week Oklahoma played the hapless Kansas Jayhawks and, while it won the game, it was unable to consistently convert inside its opponent's 20-yard line. The Sooners had eight red-zone opportunities and were only able to come away with three touchdowns.
That's not what you expect from sixth-best scoring offense in the country, especially against an obviously over-matched opponent. The Sooners need to find a consistent red-zone threat for Landry Jones to throw to when they get deep into opponents' territory.
No matter how good he is, Ryan Broyles is only 5'10" and doesn't scream red-zone target. However, the Sooners do have two guys over 6'1" who could step into that role. Kenny Stills is the most likely target, as he already has five touchdown catches, but Jaz Reynolds is 6'2" and has been coming on strong of late.
Either way, the Sooners must improve upon last week's red-zone results if they plan to continue winning against good competition. Against teams like Kansas you can get by on just being better, but as the schedule heats up, OU will have to be perfect.
Key Game: Oklahoma at Kansas State
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The Big 12 has three undefeated teams and, surprisingly, one of those teams is the Kansas State Wildcats. Two weeks from now the Sooners have to go on the road and face the 11th-ranked Wildcats in the first of two games straight against Top 20 teams.
The Wildcats are almost the exact opposite of the Sooners. They play a ball control game that relies on quarterback Collin Klein's ability to dominate as a dual-threat player. He currently has 10 rushing touchdowns and seven passing touchdowns. However, the best thing he does is keep the opponent's offense off the field.
Against the Baylor Bears, Kansas State held the ball for over 38 minutes, almost 20 minutes more than the Bears. If K-State can do the same thing to the Sooners, OU might be in trouble. OU's defense must get the Wildcats off the field and let its offense put up as many points as possible. If it can do that, the Sooners will be looking at another win against a quality opponent.
Thing That Must Happen: A Third Big 12 Team Must Step Up
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There are quite a few teams who are still undefeated as we head into the second half of the season. Because of that, the Sooners are going to need as much help as they can possibly get on their way to the national championship. If a Big 12 team outside of the state of Oklahoma is able to step up their play and only lose two games, that will make OU's record look even better.
The three teams that are most likely to do that are the Texas Longhorns, the Texas A&M Aggies and the Kansas State Wildcats. Right now, the Wildcats seem to be the most likely to become the third power in the Big 12.
If one of these three teams can come out of the season with only two losses, OU's strength of schedule will be pretty high by season's end. That could help sway voters into putting the Sooners into the title game if there's a log jam of unbeatens clamoring for their spot in the championship game.
Key Game: Texas A&M at Oklahoma
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Earlier this season, the Texas A&M Aggies looked like they might be able to challenge the Sooners for the top spot in the Big 12. However, after back-to-back losses to Oklahoma State and Arkansas, the Aggies are no longer that team.
That said, it would be a mistake if OU underestimated this team because, as they proved against Baylor, they have the ability to put up points in hurry. Plus, their defense was able to hold stud quarterback Robert Griffin III mostly in check, forcing him into 12 incompletions. Considering he only had 18 incompletions this season prior to this game, that's quite the feat.
The Sooners must take this game very seriously. Texas A&M is very potent and had a similar start to last year before reeling off six straight victories, including a win against OU. Oklahoma does look to have the edge on offense and is at home, but don't be surprised to see A&M pull off an upset.
Thing That Must Happen: Ryan Broyles Continues to Dominate
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This past weekend Ryan Broyles became the all-time leader in receptions in the NCAA. He might just be the best receiver in the Big 12 this year, which is saying something considering the conference also contains Justin Blackmon.
He's going to have to continue to produce at a high level because no other receiver on the team has more than 27 catches. Kenny Stills does have five touchdowns and Jaz Reynolds has been coming along as of late, but Broyles is the real playmaker on this team.
It's unlikely we'll see a dip in Broyles' performance given that he's already put up an outstanding career and doesn't look to be slowing down. However, he may be able to help the Sooners out a lot if he can help Stills and Reynolds turn into studs like he is. With three legitimate threats at the wide receiver position, this team might be unstoppable.
Key Game: LSU at Alabama
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This is the sole game on the list that doesn't include Oklahoma, but that doesn't make it any less important. If OU doesn't lose another game it will probably end up playing one of these teams in the national championship.
I'm not sure which team Oklahoma would rather have win this game, as both teams are going to be extremely tough matchups for the Sooners. That said, they will definitely be watching this one because it will give them a better idea of whom they might end up facing at season's end.
This could be the biggest game of the year in the NCAA. Regardless of who wins, this is an important game for the whole country, including Oklahoma. OU will be hoping to gain some insight into how to beat a possible future opponent, while the rest of the country gets to enjoy a great game between two college heavyweights.
Thing That Must Happen: Oklahoma State Must Keep Winning
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As I said earlier, there are still quite a few undefeated teams and while OU has a good shot at going to the national title if it can just finish the season undefeated, it may need help to get into the championship. One way to make that happen is if the Oklahoma State Cowboys are able to stay undefeated until they face the Sooners.
The Cowboys have a fairly easy road to the Bedlam showdown in Stillwater. They only face one other ranked team before taking on the Sooners, and that's the Kansas State Wildcats. Fortunately, they have that game at home and will be getting K-State the week after it faces Oklahoma.
If Oklahoma State can stay undefeated until it faces Oklahoma, an Oklahoma win in Stillwater would make the Sooners' strength of schedule look great. This is especially true if another team like K-State can go 10-2 throughout the season. With two huge opponents like that on the schedule, OU's schedule strength will be off the charts.
Key Games: Oklahoma at Baylor
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This game might be even more scary for Sooner fans than the matchup with Oklahoma State later in the year. The Sooners will be coming off two straight games against Top 20 teams and will have to go into Waco, Texas to face the ridiculously talented Robert Griffin III and his Baylor Bears.
RG3 is the most dangerous player in college football. He's got the accuracy you would expect from a classic pocket passer, but adds the dynamic scrambling ability of Michael Vick. When your team is facing this kind of athlete, you have to be concerned for your team's undefeated season.
Oklahoma can't overlook this game, it's that simple. This could be a classic trap game for the Sooners. They're coming off a stretch of tough games and may be looking ahead to the Bedlam game. If they don't come out and play their best football, they are risking their undefeated season against a supremely talented offense that can beat anybody on any given day.
Thing That Must Happen: Other Unbeatens Must Fall
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While having key teams on their schedule can help the Sooners overcome the possibility of their being more than two undefeated teams in the NCAA, it would be much better if all those undefeated teams would simply lose.
LSU and Alabama obviously have to play each other, so one of those two will fall from the undefeated ranks, but most of the other teams with undefeated records still have a game or two left that could trip them up.
Wisconsin has three more games against ranked teams and has to go on the road to face Ohio State. Clemson has two games against ranked teams left and both are away games. Stanford also has two games left against ranked teams, including a matchup against No. 10 Oregon. Obviously, Kansas State and Oklahoma State will have to face OU before the season's out, so that leaves only Boise State and Houston without games against ranked teams.
Neither of those teams would be picked to play in the title game over an undefeated Sooners. A few of those other teams might have a chance to overtake Oklahoma depending on how the games turn out. If a few of these teams can be upset later on in the year, it would greatly help the Sooners in their run to national championship.
Key Game: Oklahoma @ Oklahoma State
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If any game can challenge the LSU-Alabama game for most important game of the season, this is it. The final game of the season against two possible unbeatens who just happen to be huge rivals. There's never been a more important Bedlam game, and there might never be another one again.
The Sooners will be tested more than they have been by any other team when they go into Stillwater to face the Cowboys. Oklahoma State boasts, arguably, the best offense in the nation and proved last week it can move the ball on the ground almost as well as through the air.
The Cowboys have two great running backs, two or three amazing wide receivers (including Justin Blackmon) and one of the nation's best quarterbacks. The Sooners simply haven't faced an opponent this talented on offense. The defense isn't too shabby, either, and the ball-hawking secondary might be able to throw the sometimes turnover prone Landry Jones off his game.
Oklahoma won't overlook this game, but it has to come out with a bang and try to quiet the always rowdy Cowboy crowd. If it can get out to an early lead, it might be able to pull this one off and be well on its way to another national championship.