College football’s most prolific offense propelled Oklahoma to victory in the Big 12 Championship game, but it was the team’s long-vilified defense that potentially sealed another Sooners trip to the College Football Playoff.
After surrendering 40-plus points to four straight opponents, the OU defense welcomed the championship season by applying the clamps to Texas in a 39-27 triumph before a record crowd of 83,114 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, the highest-attended conference football championship game ever.
With No. 1 Alabama’s 35-28 comeback victory over No. 4 Georgia in the SEC Championship later Saturday, the Sooners now await the CFP committee’s final rankings, which will be revealed Sunday at 11 a.m. CT.
The top four teams advance to the playoff, with the No. 1 seed facing the No. 4 seed and No. 2 facing No. 3 on Dec. 29. The winners advance to the College Football Playoff National Championship on Jan. 7 at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif.
Asked if he felt his team deserved a playoff bid, OU head coach Lincoln Riley said, “My opinion doesn’t matter and I’m not on the committee. We’ve given it everything we have. We have left everything that we’ve got out there this season. We’ve got a great resume.”
The outcome gave the Sooners an unprecedented fourth consecutive Big 12 title and their 12th overall (all in the last 19 years). OU became the ﬁrst Power Five program to win four straight outright conference titles since Florida (1993-96 in the SEC).
An emotional Riley fought back tears during a post-game interview on the field.
“We’re thrilled by the victory,” Riley said. “I mean, it’s been a challenging year, which they all are. None of the previous three here were easy by any stretch. This one certainly wasn’t either, but to sit here now as the fourth-time defending Big 12 champion, man, that sounds good.”
The triumph also means the No. 5-ranked Sooners (12-1 overall) have defeated every opponent they have faced this season.
OU avenged its only loss of the season by beating the No. 9-ranked Longhorns (9-4), who edged the Sooners 48-45 on a 40-yard field with :09 remaining in the Cotton Bowl on Oct. 6.
Most everyone agrees OU has the nation’s most explosive offense, seeing how it entered Saturday’s game leading the country in four categories and ranking second in two others.
The Sooners, who gained at least 500 yards in all 10 games against conference opponents this season, amassed 508 total yards and 29 first downs against Texas.
The OU offense undeniably is championship caliber, but does Riley believe has a defense good enough to win the national crown?
“Yes, yes, I do,” Riley said. “Based on we’ve beat everybody on our schedule.”
OU trailed 14-6 in the second quarter, but outscored Texas 33-13 from that point forward.
With the score tied at 27 entering the fourth quarter, the Longhorns’ had three offensive drives in the final period, which ended with a punt, a safety and an interception.
In the previous week’s 59-56 survival at West Virginia that allowed the Sooners to advance to the conference championship game, the OU defense returned two fumbles for touchdowns.
“I feel like we’re gaining traction defensively,” Riley said. “I feel like we have our highest performances in the last couple of weeks in huge games against dynamic offenses, and I don’t think we’ve played our best yet this year and I think we’re going to get there. I absolutely feel like it.”
Two plays after a fourth-quarter OU fumble, sophomore cornerback Tre Brown blitzed untouched and buried Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger for a safety and a 32-27 lead with 8:27 left.
It was the only time during the game Brown was sent on a blitz. “Everything went like, I don’t know, I just see lights,” Brown said, drawing laughter in the post-game interview session. “Especially when I saw him do play-action pass, I was like, Wow, I can’t believe he just faked the ball.’ I got a green light and I took my shot and delivered.”
The Sooners took the ensuing kickoff and methodically marched 65 yards and drained 6:19 off the clock in 11 plays. The drive was capped by a nifty one-handed, 18-yard touchdown catch from tight end Grant Calcaterra for his second scoring reception of the game.
In addition to the CFP seedings, this year’s Heisman Trophy also was at stake on Saturday.
In his final audition to become OU’s seventh winner of college football’s most prestigious honor, redshirt junior quarterback Kyler Murray completed 25 of 34 passes for 379 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions.
Murray is in a tight race with Alabama sophomore quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, who completed 10 of 25 passes for 164 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions against Georgia before leaving with a lower leg injury in the fourth quarter with the Crimson Tide trailing 28-21.
Asked if the thought he did enough to become the second straight quarterback from OU to secure the Heisman (joining Baker Mayfield), Murray said, “I don’t know. I just try to go out and play my game. Was worried about this game and this game only, all of that stuff will take care of itself. It was a great game today and I’m just glad we won.”
Murray has accounted for 51 total touchdowns this season (40 passing, 11 rushing).
The Sooners have a 4,000-yard passer this season in Murray (4,053), two 1,000-yard receivers in junior Marquise Brown (1,318) and sophomore CeeDee Lamb (1,049), and a 1,000-yard rusher in redshirt freshman Kennedy Brooks (1,021), who began the season as the team’s No. 5 running back.
“Guys continued to make plays and that’s the expectation here, no matter who we have, no matter who is playing for us, no matter who gets hurt,” Riley said. “The expectations are the same. Our guys lived up to it and fed off our defensive energy and made plays when we needed to.”