Oklahoma Football: Sooners Seeking 2016 Deja Vu Finish

At this time a year ago, the Oklahoma football team was  ranked 12th in the country, sitting at 8-1 overall and 5-1 in the Big 12, yet trailed both 6-0 Oklahoma State and 5-0 Baylor in the conference standings.

Oct 29, 2016; Norman, OK, USA;Oklahoma Sooners wide receiver Dede Westbrook (11) runs after a catch while pursued by Kansas Jayhawks linebacker Mike Lee (11) during the third quarter during the second quarter at Gaylord Family – Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

That’s when the Sooners embarked on a three-game gauntlet that was arguably the most difficult finishing schedule in the country. This Saturday, Oklahoma, ranked No. 9 in the country this time around, begins a similar schedule trek that Sooner fans are hoping produces an equally strong finishing kick.

A year ago, Oklahoma finished up against the two teams ahead of the Sooners in the conference standings, both games on the road. Sandwiched in between was one-loss TCU, also ranked and tied with OU in the league standings.

It all began on Nov. 14 in a night game on the road at Baylor, the Sooners first visit to all-new McLane Stadium. Behind Samaje Perine’s 166 yards on the ground and a 270-yard passing performance by quarterback Baker Mayfield, the Sooners outlasted the Bears, handing them a 44-34 loss and their first defeat of the season in a game that was much closer than the final score indicated.

Baylor made a much closer game of it than many people expected, with the Bears having to go with a backup quarterback because of a season-ending neck injury to starter Seth Russell.

The 2015 win over Baylor represented vindication of a 48-14 humiliation the Bears handed to Oklahoma in Norman the year before.

The following week, the Sooners were back home against TCU, and for the second consecutive week they were facing an opponent forced to play without its starting quarterback. TCU starter and All-Big 12 performer Trevone Boykin.

Nov 21, 2015; Norman, OK, USA; Oklahoma Sooners safety Steven Parker (10) deflects the pass attempt by TCU Horned Frogs quarterback Bram Kohlhausen (6) on a two point conversion try during the fourth quarter at Gaylord Family – Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Boykin watched, all bundled up on the sidelines on a cold, late November night in Norman, as Baker Mayfield and Oklahoma jumped out to 23-7 halftime lead. TCU scored early in the second half to cut into the Oklahoma advantage and bring the Horned Frogs within 10 at 23-13, but the Sooners responded on a 72-yard touchdown scamper by Samaje Perine to stretch the Sooner lead back out to 17 points.

That’s when things got very interesting and very scary as far as Sooner fans were concerned.

Baker Mayfield was forced to sit out the second half with concussion symptoms, and TCU took full advantage of the Sooner starting quarterback, scoring 16 unanswered points in the final quarter and coming within a missed two-point conversion at the very end of pulling off a stunning road upset.

Oklahoma safety Stephen Parker batted down a pass from TCU reserve quarterback Bram Kohlhausen directed toward an open Horned Frog receiver in the end zone, preserving the win for the Sooners and setting up a de facto Big 12 championship game in a Bedlam showdown at Oklahoma State the following weekend.

The regular-season finale for the Sooners pitted No. 5 Oklahoma, vying for a ninth Big 12 championship and a coveted spot in the College Football Playoff, against No. 9 and host in-state rival Oklahoma State.

The Cowboys took an early 3-0 lead, but it took only 16 seconds after that for Oklahoma to erase the deficit with touchdown. The Sooners added another first-quarter touchdown and then exploded for 30 points in the second quarter to open up a 44-20 advantage at the intermission.

The Sooners would add on 14 second-half points, while holding the Oklahoma State offense to just a single field goal as the Sooners finished off their in-state rivals in emphatic fashion with a 58-23 victory.

By completing the trifecta with back-to-back-to-back wins over three ranked conference teams, Oklahoma shot up the College Football Rankings, moving from No. 15 the first week of the Playoff standings up to No. 3 and finally No. 4, securing for themselves a spot in the second College Football Playoff.

This season, the Sooners face another difficult three-game finish – with Baylor, at West Virginia and back home to face Oklahoma State. Again this year, all three teams are currently nationally ranked.

With two losses already, Oklahoma is an extreme long shot to make it back to the College Football Playoff, but another Big 12 championship is very much in the Sooners’ control. For that desire to become a reality, though, OU will need to win at least two of its final three games.

On the other hand, a clean sweep, like a year ago, would at a minimum guarantee the Sooners a spot in the Sugar Bowl, one of the elite New Year’s Six bowl assignments.

All the fun kicks off this weekend when Oklahoma squares off against Baylor.

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