Through the first six games of their season, the Oklahoma Sooners have experienced exhilarating highs and an astonishing low. The euphoria of an upset win at Ohio State gave way to panic after OU dropped a home game to massive underdog Iowa State.
A hard-fought victory in the Red River Showdown last weekend seemingly put the Sooners back on the right track, but they’re embarking on a treacherous stretch that will likely determine the participants in the Big 12 title game.
The first half of the year taught us that the gap between the Sooners and the rest of the Big 12 isn’t that big. OU can’t afford any more letdowns in the next six games if it wants to secure a spot in the championship game and a potential spot in the College Football Playoff.
Let’s look back at the start of the season and ahead to what’s on tap for the Sooners in 2017.
Offensive MVP: QB Baker Mayfield
Who else? Mayfield probably hasn’t even played his best ball this season, and yet he has still established himself as arguably the top field general in the country. He put on an epic performance in the win in Columbus and helped cement his Sooner legend in leading OU to a game-sealing touchdown in the fourth quarter versus Texas.
Defensive MVP: CB Parnell Motley
Tough call between Motley and senior edge defender Ogbonnia Okoronkwo. The sophomore defensive back gets the slight nod for his week-to-week consistency at the most important position on that side of ball. He’ll be in the running for a spot on the All-Big 12 team later this year.
Best Moment of the First Half: Planting the flag
Mayfield might have irked Buckeye Nation with his postgame antics after the Ohio State win, but it endeared him even more to his home state constituency to see the quarterback spiking the OU flag at midfield of the Horseshoe.
Best Newcomer: WR CeeDee Lamb
Motley would be a good choice here, but we’ll disqualify him since he redshirted last season. Instead, let’s go with Lamb, a true freshman who has quickly become OU’s top threat at wide receiver. The rookie pass catcher does everything well. He has turned into Mayfield’s security blanket in the course of half a season.
Biggest Surprise: The Iowa State collapse
OU was cruising early against the Cyclones in game five before it all came crashing down in one of the most stunning results of the 2017 season. The Sooners simply couldn’t get a stop in the second half of the game as they watched their lead quickly evaporate. (To be fair, ISU might be one of the most surprising teams in the country by the end of the year.)
Three Things to Watch in the Second Half
1. Will the secondary settle down?
Defensive coordinator Mike Stoops and secondary coach Kerry Cooks appeared to have the defensive backfield straightened out through the first three games against UTEP, Ohio State and Tulane. The DBs started faltering against Baylor before falling apart against ISU. OU needs the unit to be in top shape to face the smorgasbord of spread offenses now awaiting the Sooners.
2. Kicking game
Austin Seibert was nails against Texas, drilling three field goals and repeatedly helping OU out of trouble with his punting. Seibert’s confidence appeared to be wavering early in the season, but last weekend’s performance suggested it’s coming back.
3. Putting teams away
OU’s tendency to take its foot off the gas tested Sooner fans’ patience in the first half of the year. The repeated lulls took their toll versus the Cyclones, and a week later, OU still managed to let Texas back in the game after racing to a 20-0 lead. For a team chasing a playoff bid, it’s a much better look to knock an opponent out early than to hang on late for a win.
Ranking the Toughest Remaining Games on the Schedule
1. Nov. 4 at Oklahoma State
The Cowboys shook off a loss to TCU to find their stride in recent weeks. The Paddle People in Stillwater can’t wait to see the Sooners.
2. Nov. 11 TCU
The only difference between this game and the one the week before is the location. TCU is an outstanding team.
3. Oct. 21 at Kansas State
The Wildcats are looking to end OU’s dominance on their home field. No coach is better at springing a trap than Bill Snyder.
4. Nov. 25 West Virginia
The high-powered offense of the Mountaineers means no game is ever out of reach for WVU. Will Grier is making a solid case as the second-best QB in the Big 12.
5. Oct. 28 Texas Tech
It says something about difficulty of OU’s remaining schedule that the Red Raiders come in so low on this list. Tech has its customarily scary offense and a D that is gradually toughening up.
6. Nov. 18 at Kansas
Name the score.
— Written by Allen Kenney, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Kenney is founder and editor of BlatantHomerism.com and host of the Blatant Homerism Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @BlatantHomerism.