While Oklahoma currently sits among the top four teams in the latest College Football Playoff rankings, the Sooners’ path to a potential shot at a national title actually starts Saturday in Lawrence against Kansas.
The Jayhawks have just one win on the season and are 0-7 in Big 12 play, but that’s precisely why the Sooners (9-1, 6-1) can ill afford any sort of slip up. Not only does OU need to continue to win to maintain its spot in the playoff rankings and impress the selection committee, but a victory over KU secures the Sooners’ spot in the revived Big 12 Championship Game regardless of what happens next week at home against West Virginia.
Kansas is merely playing out the string and needs either an upset at home against Oklahoma or at Oklahoma State next week just to avoid going 0-9 in conference play for a second time in three seasons under head coach David Beaty. He’s 1-24 against Big 12 teams overall.
Oklahoma at Kansas
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 18 at 3:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: Oklahoma -36.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Baker Mayfield inches closer to a Heisman?
Popular opinion seems to suggest that Mayfield (above, right) has not only taken over as the front-runner for the Heisman Trophy but that Oklahoma’s senior quarterback also has just about sealed up the award. That’s what happens when are among the top three in the nation in passing yards (3,690), yards per game (355.9), completion rate (71.2 percent), touchdown passes (31), yards per attempt (11.9), passer rating (202.1), and total offense (379.0 ypg) for a team that’s lost just once and is well positioned to make the College Football Playoff.
Mayfield has thrown just five interceptions all season (in 299 attempts) and has at least two touchdown passes in 23 straight games, by far the longest active streak in the FBS, according to ESPN Stats & Info. While the Sooners should have little trouble dispatching Kansas, Mayfield still needs to do his part and add to his statistics to continue to maintain his leading contender status. That shouldn’t be too hard against a Jayhawks defense that’s giving up 449 yards and 42.2 points per game. KU has allowed opposing QBs to complete 69 percent of their attempts with a 26:4 touchdown-to-interception ratio, and that’s without facing Mayfield (or Oklahoma State’s Mason Rudolph for that matter) yet. Perhaps the only question regarding Mayfield and his matchup against Kansas is how long will he be in the game to add to his impressive Heisman resume?
2. Oklahoma’s new hot Rod(ney)
Entering this season, one of the biggest question marks facing the Sooners was how they would replace 1,000-yard rushers Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine, both of whom are now in the NFL. It has taken some time, but Oklahoma may have finally found its guy in Rodney Anderson. After missing all of 2016 with a neck injury, Anderson has been a runaway freight train over the past four games. After posting just 82 rushing yards in his first six games, the sophomore has amassed 590 on 87 carries (6.8 ypc) with five touchdowns on the ground in the last four, all against Big 12 foes. He had 151 rushing yards last week against a TCU defense that was ranked No. 1 in the country against the run prior to that game. He also caught five passes for another 139 yards and two more scores in the OU’s 38-20 win over the then-No. 11 Horned Frogs.
Mayfield has done a pretty good job carrying the Sooners this season, but the emergence of Anderson makes this offense, which is tops in the FBS at 600.7 yards per game, that much more dangerous. And similar to Mayfield, Anderson should have little trouble extending his streak of 100-yard games to five against a defense that has given up 173.5 rushing yards per game along with a Big 12-worst 24 touchdowns.
3. Can the Jayhawks fly against the Sooners?
If there’s a concern for Oklahoma moving forward, it’s the play of the Sooners’ defense, which has been heavily criticized at times. OU is ranked fifth in the Big 12 in every major defensive category (total, scoring, passing) and sixth in the other (rushing). While this defense got the job done in the upset of Ohio State in Columbus and last week against TCU, it also has given up a total of 16 touchdown passes to Baylor, Iowa State, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech combined.
For Kansas to seemingly have any shot of hanging with the Sooners, the Jayhawks will have to come up with big plays through the air. Carter Stanley replaced Peyton Bender as the starter a few games ago, but his success has been mixed. Stanley threw three touchdowns passes last week against Texas, but he also had as many interceptions. If he wants to make something happen against Oklahoma it would be in his best interests to target Steven Sims Jr. early and often. Sims leads KU and is in the top 10 in the Big 12 in every receiving category. He has 48 catches for 732 yards and five touchdowns and should be able to add to that against an OU secondary that has been vulnerable at times while also dealing with some key injuries.
Oklahoma has its College Football Playoff path laid out. If the Sooners win out, including a victory in the Big 12 Championship Game, they should be in. There’s no reason to think Kansas will be the team to dash OU’s hopes or Baker Mayfield’s Heisman Trophy campaign for that matter. The only real question for this game is who will do more damage, Mayfield or teammate Rodney Anderson, who’s been on a tear the last month? Whoever it ends up being, chances are both will get a half to add to their statistics considering this game figures to be well in hand by then.