Oklahoma Football: Louisville’s Loss Helps the Sooners

Houston’s surprising victory over No. 5 Louisville helps the Sooners’ College Football Playoff chances, but not as much as an Oklahoma football win on Saturday over West Virginia will.

Nov 17, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Cougars safety Garrett Davis (1) reacts after a play during the first quarter against the Louisville Cardinals at TDECU Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

First of all, it was gratifying to see Houston get another big win this season over a ranked team. The Cougars, of course, began the season with an upset win over then No. 3 Oklahoma, only to drop completely out of sight in recent weeks after losses to Navy and SMU.

The fact that the Cougars were able to knock the team ranked No. 5 in the most recent College Football Playoff rankings is definitely a plus for the Sooners.

Over the course of the last seven days, four teams in the CFP top five – No. 2, 3, 4 and 5 – have gone down to defeat, creating the kind of “chaos” in the Playoff rankings that the experts say is Oklahoma’s only chance of overcoming its two early-season losses and getting back to the Playoff for a second straight season. Of course, must win out before that even becomes remotely a possibility.

According to the research service FiveThirtyEight, which uses statistical analysis to tell compelling stories and make sports predictions, Oklahoma’s chances to make the College Football Playoff this season improved by seven percent with Houston’s win over Louisville. Wisconsin and Penn State, two Big Ten teams that are ahead of the Sooners in the CFP rankings also benefited by the Louisville loss, but not as much as OU.

The Sooners move from a 14-percent chance of getting into the Playoff to 21 percent, per FiveThirtyEight. Wisconsin’s chances improve from 24 to 29 percent, and Penn State from 8 to 13 percent.

West Virginia, ranked No, 14 in this week’s CFP rankings, No. 10 in the current Associated Press Top 25 and Oklahoma’s opponent this weekend in a primetime game Saturday night in Morgantown, W.Va., saw its Playoff chances go up four percent, from 6 to 10 percent, according to the folks at FiveThirtyEight. A win over the Sooners this weekend undoubtedly would increase the Mountaineers’ chances even more.

The Sooners are hoping to pick up additional Playoff momentum by winning out with victories in their final two games against West Virginia and Oklahoma State, ranked 14th and 11th, respectively, in this week’s Playoff rankings.

A year ago, Oklahoma advanced from No. 15 in the initial College Football Playoff rankings all the way to No. 3 after successive season-ending victories over Baylor, TCU and Oklahoma State, all ranked at the time the Sooners played them.

The major difference this season is that Oklahoma has two losses. The only reason the Sooners are even a blip on the Playoff radar screen is because the losses were very early in the season and since that time OU has reeled off seven consecutive Big 12 wins.

Oct 22, 2016; Lubbock, TX, USA; Oklahoma Sooners head coach Bob Stoops on the sidelines during the game with the Texas Tech Red Raiders at Jones AT&T Stadium. Oklahoma defeated Texas Tech 66-59. Mandatory Credit: Michael C. Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Strength of schedule is one of the prime criteria the CFP selection committee looks at in ranking the teams and determining which four make it into the Playoff. The Oklahoma nonconference schedule, which included two ranked teams in Houston and Ohio State, was as strong as any team in the country. That part will help the Sooners, but the fact that they did not play well in losing to Houston and lost big to Ohio State will go against them, even if they manage to win out and capture a 10th Big 12 championship.

Not having a 13th data point – the popular term Big 12 Conference officials use in referring to a football championship game – is another point of contention when considering the Playoff candidacy of teams from the Big 12. That will not be an issue beginning with next season, when the Big 12 will bring back the championship game in football. But it is still a factor that weighs negatively against the Big 12 champion again this season.

ESPN’s Football Power Index gives Oklahoma a 54-percent chance of beating West Virginia and a 61-percent chance of winning the Big 12. If the Sooners are able to hold up their end of the challenge at West Virginia, the FPI odds for Oklahoma taking the conference crown shoot up to 87 percent.

The ball is in Oklahoma’s hands, and the Sooners are bound and determined to keep it there and take it across the finish line.

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