The College Football Playoff is approaching, and no matter where you land on the Alabama/Ohio State debate, one thing is certain: You couldn't have asked for a better pair of matchups. This is as compelling as it gets because every team has a legitimate shot to win it all.
With that in mind, allow me to lay out a few reasons why No. 2 Oklahoma will go on to beat Georgia and ultimately win the national championship. Some reasons are simple. For example, the Sooners had college football's most outstanding player this season. Some require a little more digging. You'd be hard-pressed to find a positive thing to say about this defense.
Still, Oklahoma -- led by first-year coach Lincoln Riley, the youngest in college football -- is in the show. The only thing separating it from a national title is two more games.
Here's how the Sooners can make that happen.
1. The Sooners have this player ... you may have heard of him: His name rhymes with Maker Bayfield, and he was only the 2017 Heisman Trophy winner. You know, no big deal. Say what you will about Mayfield's Ohio State, Oklahoma State and TCU twice), Mayfield has 1,560 passing yards at 12.6 yards per attempt with a 15-2 TD-to-INT ratio.and off-field "issues" (if you want to go so far as to call them that), the man has been at his best when the most is on the line. In his four biggest games this season (vs.
Keep in mind, too, that Ohio State and TCU are top-15 defenses, per Football Outsiders. Mayfield also leads PFF's quarterback passer rating with a score of 137.9 and ranks sixth with 29 "big-time throws." So while Georgia and potentially Alabama or Clemson would be the toughest defenses he's faced this season, the numbers say he's up to the task.
2. Oklahoma has college football's best, most diverse offense: Now that you know everything about Mayfield's impact, it's time to tell you that the Sooners aren't a one-man show -- even if it feels like it sometimes. The Sooners have the top offense in every S&P+ category and are actually more efficient this year without the trio of Dede Westbrook, Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon. In particular, PFF loves this offense's skill players.
Running back Rodney Anderson, who has been unstoppable in the second half of the season, ranks 14th in explosive run rate percentage. Receivers Jeff Badet, Mykel Jones and CeeDee Lamb rank in the top 15 nationally, respectively, in wide receiver rating* and in the top 10 in offensive success rating (i.e. the percentage of targets that go for a positive play). Additionally, Marquise Brown, the team's leading receiver with 981 yards, averages 20 yards per reception. That's fourth-best among receivers who have at least 40 catches on the season.
Take a look at how PFF has them ranked among wideouts with 200+ snaps.
|Pos. Rating (rank)
|Success Rate % (rank)
Mark Andrews, the Mackey Award winner for top tight end, is a mismatch with 58 receptions, second-most among tight ends. The reason why Oklahoma's offense is so successful is because it has Mayfield distributing the ball to so many weapons that it's impossible to shut down every option. If you get into a shootout with this team, it's not likely that you're going to outscore them.
3. The defense isn't good, but it can be disruptive in spots: The old adage stands that "defense wins championships." That's a little misleading as it's actually the right kind of defense that wins championships. In Oklahoma's case, using speed to disrupt an offense's rhythm is what it does best. Otherwise, there's no way to spin it: OU's defense just isn't that good. Yes, playing potent Big 12 offenses has something to do with the raw numbers, but even when you adjust for efficiency there's not much to like.
But here's what the Sooners do have: a mostly-veteran group capable of well-timed disruption. That's going to be particularly important against Georgia in the Rose Bowl semifinal because the key to beating the Bulldogs' offense is to get them out of their comfort zone and behind the chains. Sooners edge rusher Ogbonnia Okoronkwo ranks fourth overall by PFF and actually grades out better against the run than the pass. The defensive line as a whole is best in passing situations when it can tee off and get to the quarterback. At linebacker, Caleb Kelly is a bright young star who can fill gaps and win one-on-one in space. So while there's no way around the fact that Oklahoma will give up yards and have to win in higher scoring games, it is capable of making enough plays to give its offense a chance.