Oklahoma Sooners, a playoff contender? Don't laugh.

Oklahoma University logo (http://www.ou.edu/content/brand/logos_trademarks/ou-logo.html)

Like in politics, a week is an eternity in a college football season, so any thought tossed out here might look like sheer folly by Sunday morning. But here's a notion which seemed silly just a few weeks ago: Is it time to start thinking about Oklahoma as a possible playoff team?

Yes, that Oklahoma. The same team that opened the year 1-2 and was left for dead after getting trounced at home by Ohio State. The same team that is undefeated in Big 12 play but still must deal with West Virginia and Oklahoma State in its final two regular season games.

Perhaps more to the point, the Sooners (8-2, 7-0) are operating in a Big 12 that remains unquestionably down. Baylor and Texas Christian aren't as good as they were a year ago. Texas Tech is staring at a losing season. Kansas State and Texas remain in orbit of .500. Iowa State, while exhibiting signs of competitiveness, is still Iowa State. And it's basketball season at Kansas. Heck, it was basketball season at Kansas before the autumnal equinox.

That's the pack of teams Oklahoma beat up on during its current seven-game winning streak. But thanks to the magic of inertia and the dwindling number of one-loss playoff contenders to complement undefeated Alabama, the Sooners are up to No. 9 in this week's dog-and-pony showplayoff committee rankings.

Two things must happen to propel Oklahoma into the playoff in consecutive years. The first is the obvious: win out. Oklahoma State and West Virginia would represent the Sooners' most notable triumphs, and it would get them home at 10-2. The second is for Ohio State to win the Big Ten rather than get shut out of its league title game at 11-1. While the committee has a professed love for conference champions, would the Buckeyes really get passed over for an Oklahoma team they beat on the road? And one with an extra loss on its ledger? It would be an extreme leap of logic, especially with only a dozen data points per team.

But if those two things happen? And, say, Washington absorbs another loss, as do either Clemson or Louisville? The Sooners could be right there.

Unless -- or is it until? -- things change again this weekend.


A spin through the eight FBS leagues with divisional setups and the rough outline for clinching scenarios this week in each:

American Athletic: Navy (7-2, 5-1) would lock up the West Division with a victory at East Carolina. It defeated Houston and Tulsa, which are a game back. Temple (7-3, 5-1) can seal the East with a victory over Tulane coupled with a South Florida stumble at Southern Methodist. The Owls defeated both South Florida and Central Florida, which remain in contention.

Atlantic Coast: The Atlantic Division gets settled this week. If Clemson (9-1, 6-1) wins at Wake Forest, it heads back to the ACC title game. If it loses, Louisville wins the division for the first time. With both North Carolina and Virginia Tech playing nonconference games, the Coastal won't be decided until next week.

Big Ten: The East Division isn't getting sorted out this week, but Wisconsin (8-2, 5-2) could clinch the West if it defeats Purdue (which it almost certainly will) while Nebraska falls at home to Maryland and Minnesota loses at Northwestern.

Conference USA: Western Kentucky (8-3, 6-1) is off this week, but will clinch the East Division if Old Dominion loses at Florida Atlantic. Louisiana Tech (8-3, 6-1) also has a bye week but has wrapped up the West Division.

Mid-American: The West Division will go down to the final week, with the Toledo-Western Michigan matchup on Nov. 25 doubling as a de facto division title game. The East Division will get sorted out Tuesday, when Ohio and Miami (Ohio) host regular season finales. Both are 5-2 in the league, with Ohio holding the tiebreaker.

Mountain West: San Diego State (9-1, 6-0) is three games clear in the West Division with two to play. Who it will face in the league title game won't be sorted out until next week; Boise State, New Mexico and Wyoming all are in contention.

Pac-12: The day-after-Thanksgiving Apple Cup will determine the North Division winner unless Washington State (8-2, 7-0) beats Colorado and Washington (9-1, 6-1) falls at home to Arizona State this week. Colorado (8-2, 6-1) can clinch the South, but only if it beats Washington State and both Utah (at home against Oregon) and Southern California (at UCLA) lose to sub-.500 teams.

Southeastern: Alabama (10-0, 7-0) clinched the SEC West last week, while Florida (7-2, 5-2) can wrap up the East with a victory at Louisiana State. If the Gators lose, it opens the door for Tennessee to earn a rematch with the Crimson Tide if it closes with triumphs against Missouri and Vanderbilt.


No. 5 Louisville at Houston (Thursday, 8 p.m., ESPN): Cardinals QB Lamar Jackson had one of his shakier outings of the year last week against Wake Forest . . . and still rushed for 153 yards. He'll get a prime-time showcase for his Heisman candidacy against Tom Herman's Cougars.

No. 23 Florida at No. 16 Louisiana State (Saturday, 1 p.m., SEC Network): Not even a hurricane or SEC in-fighting could prevent this game from being played. Granted, its postponement also entailed a change of venue, but the Gators will get an extra home game next year as a result of the unusual in-season schedule shift.

No. 22 Washington State at No. 10 Colorado (Saturday, 3:30 p.m., Fox): Because everyone thought this was going to be one of the most important games in the Pac-12 this season. But the visiting Cougars have won eight in a row, and Mike MacIntyre's resurgent Buffaloes have lost only to Michigan and Southern California. Luke Falk and the Cougars' passing game against Colorado's secondary is perhaps the week's best matchup.

Indiana at No. 3 Michigan (Saturday, 3:30 p.m., ESPN); No. 4 Clemson at Wake Forest (Saturday, 7 p.m., ESPN regional); Arizona State at No. 6 Washington (Saturday, 7:30 p.m., Fox): Three games, one story. How do Michigan, Clemson and Washington respond to their first losses of the season? Clemson should have the toughest time of the bunch, but this might turn out to be a series of blowouts.

No. 9 Oklahoma at No. 14 West Virginia (Saturday, 8 p.m., ABC): The Sooners haven't lost since a prime-time humiliation against Ohio State in mid-September. And West Virginia? It's still plugging away at 8-1, and it can claim the Big 12 with three more victories. This one, though, figures to be the Mountaineers' toughest test to date.


Special to The Washington Post · Patrick Stevens




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