Sooners secure third CFP berth

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NORMAN — After conversing until about 1:30 a.m. Sunday morning, then breaking and resuming, the College Football Playoff committee reached a decision around 10:30 a.m. after some debate.

Those discussions — about where Oklahoma, Georgia and Ohio State should stand in the final CFP rankings — were described by committee chairman Rob Mullens as “contentious” at times.

In the end, OU’s case was enough.

The Sooners were given the No. 4 seed, securing a spot in the national semifinals for the third time in four years. After a 39-27 victory over Texas for the Big 12 championship Saturday, OU climbed one spot safely above No. 5 Georgia.

OU will face top-seeded and defending national champion Alabama in the Orange Bowl at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida, at 7 p.m. on Dec. 29.

For the Sooners, it wasn’t a guaranteed spot.

Saturday, Alabama (13-0) rallied for a 35-28 victory over Georgia in the SEC title game. A number of pundits argued Georgia (11-2) should stay at No. 4 because of a strong performance against the Crimson Tide, the No. 1 team all season.

There were also questions about whether Ohio State could make a jump to No. 4 after beating Northwestern 45-24 for the Big Ten title, but the Buckeyes remained at No. 6.

OU coach Lincoln Riley received news of the CFP berth — his second in as many years as OU head coach — while aboard a plane for a recruiting trip alongside assistants Cale Gundy and Dennis Simmons.

“It’s an interesting feeling,” Riley said of waiting for the announcement. “I feel like we have a team that’s worthy [of a CFP selection] and a team that can make a run. We think our best ball is still ahead of us.”

Mullens said the committee couldn’t decide on an “unequivocally” better team between Georgia, OU or Ohio State so it used protocol that involves several factors, including strength of schedule. Another key point is whether a team is a conference champion.

“Look at the number of conference champions that are in the playoff,” Mullens said. “It’s a large percentage, so it carries plenty of weight.”

Said Riley: “That’s what these games should be like, different champions from all across the country.”

OU has won four straight Big 12 titles. Its win over Texas avenged a previous loss to the Longhorns, giving the Sooners a win over every team on their schedule.

The committee also took into account OU’s defensive play, which has mostly lagged this fall. Tre Brown sacked Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger for a safety to help secure the Texas win, and Tre Norwood intercepted a pass that clinched it. Those plays, plus two defensive touchdowns a week earlier, improved the Sooners’ outlook, Mullens said.

“That’s a piece of it, no doubt,” he said.

Now, OU matches up with Alabama for the first time since the 2014 Sugar Bowl, when the Sooners stunned the No. 3 Crimson Tide 45-31 behind a huge performance from quarterback Trevor Knight.

This meeting pits OU’s Kyler Murray and Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa — considered the Heisman frontrunners — against each other. Murray potentially took the lead after throwing for 379 yards and three touchdowns Saturday. Tagovailoa was limited by an injury and threw two interceptions against Georgia.