Kevin Haskin: Big 12 gets lift with Oklahoma upset of Ohio State

‘Playoff implications’ played part in Mayfield’s postgame flag plant

Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield apologized Monday for planting a flag on Ohio State’s field after the Sooners defeated the No. 2 Buckeyes. The win could give a lift to the Sooners and the Big 12 during the CFP. (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete)

A close-up was needed last Saturday to detect any Big 12 markings on that Oklahoma flag Baker Mayfield planted — well, thrust — into artificial turf at the Horseshoe.

 

Nonetheless, the proud few who believe Big 12 football can be competitive with other Power Five conferences delighted in the midfield celebration.

At least they savored the outcome that fueled Mayfield’s demonstrative, controversial statement — a convincing win by OU at Ohio State.

The upset also was a monumental statement for Lincoln Riley, the coach who was promoted in June to take over for Bob Stoops.

“We felt like we were going to go in there and win that game,’’ Riley said Monday during the Big 12 coaches teleconference. “Nobody on the outside probably felt that too much and that’s fine. We believe we know within these walls what we’ve got to do to get better and we’ll try to keep the focus there.’’

Those words reflect a composed coach who at 34 may indeed be capable of performing at a level beyond his years.

OU’s win, however, was beyond normal. One look at Stoops cheering from his stadium suite, or a second look at Stoops in the tunnel congratulating the OU squad, accentuated the Sooners’ joy.

The magnitude of the win was felt elsewhere in the Big 12 too.

“It certainly doesn’t hurt,’’ West Virginia’s Dana Holgorsen said. “I don’t know how poor perception is of the Big 12 right now. We do have five teams in the Top 25. I think the Big 12 has good football.’’

National perception is different.

Since the inception of the College Football Playoff, the Big 12 was represented just once, by fourth-seeded Oklahoma in 2015. A 9-0 run by OU in conference play last season could not bump the Sooners into the CFP after they lost two nonconference games, including a home defeat against the Buckeyes.

Then to begin 2017, the Big 12 started 0-2 against Power Five opponents. West Virginia played competitively but lost to Virginia Tech; Texas was ambushed by Maryland.

Not only did Oklahoma win in Columbus on Week 2, but TCU manhandled Arkansas in Fayetteville. Iowa State did lose an overtime squeaker to Iowa, bringing the Big 12’s nonconference record against Power Five opponents to 2-3. This week, half of the Big 12 will face Power Five foes.

“It’s good to have these matchups,’’ said Holgersen, “and certainly if you want respectability to get in the discussion for the CFP, you’ve got to win those games. I’m glad the Big 12 got a couple of big wins last week.’’

The exclamation point Mayfield added with his on-field celebration drew an apology on Monday. Acknowledging that his postgame glee would have been far more acceptable if confined to the OU locker room, Mayfield did address one flash point.

“It was an emotional game. I knew that it was going to have a lot of implications on the playoffs,’’ he said.

Playoffs? Go ahead. Say it like Jim Mora. After all, it is September.

Yet remember the position Oklahoma was in a year ago, playing as well as virtually any team in the country at the end of the year, but aware they had blown their shot. In September.

Once the Big 12 revives its championship game in December, any chance the league has of advancing a CFP qualifier will be somewhat clearer.

The top hopeful might not even be a Bedlam participant.

Kansas State and West Virginia could be in that hunt. Also, TCU could be regaining its old defensive swagger. Through two games, the Horned Frogs have allowed 332 yards and one touchdown.

“I’m not a big believer in what you guys talk about with the Big 12 not being physical,’’ TCU coach Gary Patterson said. “I think we’ll find out that as we go along with the season.’’

That’s just the thing. Plenty of football remains. The right team, with the right profile, can overcome a loss.

Want proof? Consult Ohio State.

In 2014, the Buckeyes leaped into the CFP mix on the final week, overtaking TCU and Baylor. A year ago, the Buckeyes advanced, though they failed to win either a conference or division title in the Big Ten.

Such history, nor much of anything else, is lost on K-State’s Bill Snyder.

“It’s not a surprise that (Oklahoma) won the ballgame,’’ said Snyder, “but it doesn’t count Ohio State out. You have to play every game. If some committee somewhere is making some decision somewhere based on that (game), we’ve got some serious problems.’’

Contact Kevin Haskin on kevin.haskin@cjonline.com or @KevinHaskin on Twitter.

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