Oklahoma makes strong closing argument to CFP committee

Oklahoma makes strong closing argument to CFP committee

Oklahoma quarterback Jalen Hurts (1) fakes a handoff to running back Kennedy Brooks (26) and wide receiver CeeDee Lamb (2) during the Big 12 championship game.

© Tim Heitman, USA TODAY Sports

ARLINGTON, Texas — Baylor’s last pass fluttered and last gasp fell to the turf incomplete, igniting a Sooner celebration.

Parnell Motley unbuckled his helmet, pitched it aside, then sprinted across the field. Pat Fields raised a single fist high in the air. Delarrian Turner-Yell stalked across the turf toward the Oklahoma faithful, roaring its approval.

OU 30, Baylor 23.

Nothing about the Sooners’ fifth consecutive Big 12 title came easily Saturday at AT&T Stadium. Leads were built and lost, regained and lost again. After a classic of a regular-season game in Waco three weeks ago, the Sooners and the Bears played another that won’t soon be forgotten.

This time around, they needed overtime to settle things.

“Winning championships is hard,” Sooner quarterback Jalen Hurts said. “Winning is not easy.”

It wasn’t Saturday, but with the victory, the Sooners are in line for another trip to the College Football Playoff. They are one of only four undefeated or one-loss teams from the Power 5 conferences, and they have a conference crown. While the selection committee won’t announce its Final Four until Sunday morning, Oklahoma not only has a strong resume but also a powerful closing argument.

The Sooners, sixth in the last playoff ranking, added another Top-10 win to their resume by beating the Bears, ranked seventh.

Early on, it looked like Oklahoma might score some serious style points Saturday. The Sooners almost had more points in the first quarter (10) than the Bears had yards (11). Oklahoma had the offense moving and defense holding.

But then the offense sputtered. After Gabe Brkic’s field goal gave the Sooners a 10-0 lead, their next five possessions were empty.

Punt. Fumble. Punt. Interception. Punt.

The interception set up a short field for the Bears, who were playing without starting quarterback Charlie Brewer. He took a couple of big hits, and midway through the second quarter, he was replaced by back-up Gerry Bohannon. He connected with Tyquan Thornton for a 33-yard touchdown, then put together a drive right before halftime that set up a field goal.

Even though Oklahoma dominated statistically in the first half, Baylor led 13-10.

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The second half was more back and forth.

The Sooners scored 10 points in the third quarter, then added a field goal a few minutes into the fourth quarter while holding Baylor scoreless.

That’s when Baylor coach Matt Rhule pulled Bohanon, a dual-threat quarterback who has been dealing with a leg injury. Rhule went with true freshman Jacob Zeno, who hadn’t played this season until a week ago in Baylor’s blowout of Kansas.

“I couldn’t sit here and tell you I thought he could” handle the pressure, Rhule said. “I have confidence in him. … We turned to him, and he certainly hit some big plays.”

His first pass went for an 81-yard touchdown.

His second one went 78 yards and set up a game-tying field goal.

Zeno didn’t even practice with the Baylor offense this week. He was on scout team, acting as Hurts. On Friday, he even played safety with the defense in the Bears’ walkthrough.

On Saturday, he darn near beat the Sooners.

Some might hold that against Oklahoma in playoff selection.

How can you almost lose to a true freshman who had only ever played against Kansas? But the Sooners were without three starters, too. The defense lost Brendan Radley-Hiles to injury in the first half, then in the second half, the offense lost lineman Adrian Ealy and running back Kennedy Brooks.

It was Brooks’ replacement, Rhamondre Stevenson, who scored OU’s touchdown in overtime.

Then when Baylor got the ball in overtime, the Sooners unleashed everything they had on Zeno. They hurried him on first down, Neville Gallimore forcing an incompletion. Then on second down, Ronnie Perkins got into the backfield to hurry Zeno’s throw, another incompletion.

On third down, Jalen Redmond and Nik Bonitto sacked Zeno.

On fourth down, Redmond had another hurry, and Zeno’s pass fluttered incomplete.

“How about that defense right now?” Sooner coach Lincoln Riley said during the trophy presentation on the field.

The Sooner fans roared their approval, and many believe the playoff selection committee will give its approval Sunday. Nothing is certain, though Utah’s loss to Oregon on Friday and Georgia’s loss to LSU on Saturday give OU a clear path to the top four.

“We’ve had a job to do as a team, which was continue to prove through the year, trust the things we could do and ultimately win a Big 12 championship,” Riley said. “We’ve done that. We will see what road it takes us on, but whichever one it is, we will be ready.”

Jenni Carlson can be reached at 405-475-4125 or jcarlson@oklahoman.com. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK or follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY NETWORK: Oklahoma makes strong closing argument to College Football Playoff committee with Big 12 title

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