Oklahoma will be part of history when it plays host to third-ranked Ohio State Saturday. The Sooners’ chances of being a player in this season’s College Football Playoff discussion hinge on posting a significant victory.
This is the first time in the history of the Associated Press poll that the top three ranked teams play road games against a ranked opponent in the same week. No. 1 Alabama is at No. 19 Ole Miss while No. 2 Florida State is at No. 10 Louisville.
The Buckeyes’ visit to Norman (6:40 p.m. Central time, FOX) would have likely been a top-five matchup had Oklahoma, ranked No. 3 at the time, not lost its season opener at Houston. The Sooners dropped to No. 14 and Ohio State moved up to take OU’s preseason spot.
Oklahoma will try to put the Buckeyes into the “One Loss, Desperate Team” category as far as the CFP is concerned. Ohio State, which returned just six starters from last season and has as much inexperience as talent, can further sully the Big 12 Conference’s reputation while leaving OU’s only solace a chance at winning back-to-back league titles.
Sooners coach Bob Stoops is well aware of the high-level nature of the game.
“There’s challenge all over the place when you play them,” he said. “They have answers for a lot of things. You have to try to keep them off balance and not let them zero in on everything you’re doing.
“You just hope the mechanics of the game, (them) playing on the road and not being able to adjust what they want to do to certain looks causes some problems. That’s where the crowd becomes a big factor.”
This is only the third time Oklahoma goes into a home game as a betting underdog. The last time was 2000 when the Sooners defeated top-ranked Nebraska on the way to winning the national championship.
Ohio State, meanwhile, has set a school record with 18 consecutive road victories.
In its last two high-profile games – last year’s CFP semifinal against Clemson and the season opener against Houston – Oklahoma’s defense had trouble containing mobile quarterbacks Deshaun Watson and Greg Ward, Jr. The Buckeyes’ J.T. Barrett presents a similar challenge.
“When you play a team like this, they stress you from sideline to sideline,” Stoops said, noting the offensive similarities between Houston and Ohio State.
“They make every level of your defense execute. We just have to compete and be competitive and play with a lot of energy. That makes up for a lot of mistakes. When you play hard and just be aggressive, that’s when good things happen to you. We have to stay aggressive and compete. That’s what the game is about.”
Ohio State’s defense has not allowed a touchdown this season, while scoring three TDs of its own. Defensive coordinator Greg Schiano understands that the Sooners’ offense relies heavily on quarterback Baker Mayfield, who is completing 71.7 percent through two games.
“(Mayfield) is that unpredictable,” Schiano said. “He’ll be scrambling this way and chuck it that way. How do you coach (against) that?”
Ohio State coach Urban Meyer is 7-0 against ranked teams in games away from Columbus the past two years. This week he talked with Houston coach Tom Herman, his former offensive coordinator, for advice on the Sooners. Likewise, Stoops phoned one of his best friends in the business, Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio, for insight on the Buckeyes.
“Obviously, our offense is balanced, but we really start with the run game,” Meyer said. “It’s going to be hard to run the ball against them. I know Houston had some success in the air against them, but had very little success running the ball.
“It’s going to be a heavyweight fight.”