Head coach Lincoln Riley doesn’t like to think about where his team is in the Big 12 race. Whether he’s paying attention or not, his team has catapulted itself back into the conference title conversation Saturday night.
With a 41-13 win over No. 14 Oklahoma State, No. 18 Oklahoma (6-2, 5-2 Big 12) stayed alive in its quest for taking the Big 12, a feat that seemed out of reach after early losses to Kansas State and Iowa State in September to start conference play. With five-consecutive wins now under their belt, the Sooners are looking to take advantage of a 23-game win streak in November for momentum to close out the season.
The Sooners aren’t in complete control of their destiny, but Saturday helped them get a step closer to a sixth-straight Big 12 title.
“We’re just trying to win,” Riley said after the game. “We've been in this long enough that — I know y'all get tired of me saying this — but if you just win, stuff takes care of itself. We don't talk at all about who else is playing who or where we stand. We just know if we win, good things happen.
“And the more you win, especially this time of year, the bigger the games get, the bigger the opportunities get.”
No. 17 Iowa State (6-2, 6-1) helped the Sooners on Saturday by dominating Kansas State (4-4, 4-3), 45-0. If the Cyclones and Sooners win out, the two will have a rematch Dec. 5 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington . Before that possibility, the Sooners first have a trip to West Virginia (5-3, 4-3) and then cap off the regular season by hosting Baylor (1-5).
Since falling to the Cyclones, 37-30, on Oct. 3, the Sooners have showcased a massive turnaround on both sides of the ball, with quarterback Spencer Rattler growing more confident and a defense that has a stifling front four. Against Oklahoma State (5-2, 4-2), Rattler threw for four touchdowns and 301 yards and a rushing touchdown, while the Sooners defense held Cowboys star running back Chuba Hubbard to just 44 rushing yards. The Cowboys completed only 15 of their 40 pass attempts.
OU entered the game at No. 25 in the FBS’s total defense category, and will surely rise after Saturday’s win. Rattler also looked sharp against OSU’s defense, which ranked No. 14 in the same category, as he completed 17 of his 24 pass attempts. On the season, Rattler has thrown for 2,018 passing yards, 21 total touchdowns and six interceptions — five of which came in his first four games.
“We don't have a losing mentality at this program with our standard,” Rattler said. “Of course we want to win. We're used to winning around here. We knew we had to turn it up a notch and work harder in practice — do the little things more. Game by game we just improved and improved. You could just see it keep going. We've still got work to do, and we're gonna get that done.”
Of course, with the Big 12 being more competitive than it’s been in recent memory, other situations can arise. With Texas (5-2, 4-2), Iowa State, Kansas State and West Virginia being serious contenders for getting into the Big 12 title game, the conference is still a few weeks from revealing who will come out on top.
Another situation that could help the Sooners is if the Longhorns win out. Head coach Tom Herman’s squad takes on Iowa State on Nov. 28, along with Kansas State and Kansas after that. If WVU and Kansas State win their last batch of games to close out the season (both currently only having three losses and a tiebreaker for the Wildcats while OU loses either of their next two), OU can say goodbye to its dreams of the Big 12 Championship.
For the rest of the season, OU has to keep the same composure of the past five games and win out. But OU putting on arguably its best performance of the year against a conference threat and ranked opponent is an important step in “Championship November.”
“Meaningful football in November is something that your antennas are up for,” defensive coordinator Alex Grinch said. “At the tail end of (these four months), the games mean something and, so that is at the forefront.
“It’s meaningful football.”