It doesn’t feel like the Oklahoma Sooners have started out 3-0 heading into Big 12 play. Narrow wins over Tulane and Nebraska left observers and fans alike a bit disappointed.
It’s understandable after the preseason hype that had the Sooners as national title contenders.
They certainly can keep themselves in that conversation as long as they keep winning. However, this is a team with little margin for error at this point. The Sooners’ non-conference schedule was considered one of the weakest in the country heading into the season and we know how most feel about the Big 12.
None of that will matter though if the Sooners continue to simply win. If they get through their Big 12 schedule undefeated, it’ll be difficult to keep them out of the college football playoff.
Let’s take a look at where various college football power rankings have the Oklahoma Sooners after their week three win over Nebraska.
ESPN – 8
What ESPN had to say:
It wasn’t exactly the Game of the Century, but the Sooners showed a little defensive muscle when the offense wasn’t quite sharp, as Lincoln Riley put it. There was also an incredible play-of-the-year-worthy interception by D.J. Graham of Adrian Martinez that stopped a Nebraska drive at the 3. The Sooners had 10 tackles for a loss and five sacks and held Martinez to 34 yards on 17 carries, about 50 yards below his 2021 rushing average. They held the Huskers to just 95 yards rushing overall. Spencer Rattler didn’t provide many explosive plays, but Riley said he was “learning to win” and was pleased with how he controlled the game in the 23-16 win. – Dave Wilson
CBS Sports – 7
What CBS Sports Dennis Dodd had to say:
If Nebraska wasn’t so mistake prone, a seven-point win over Nebraska could have been a lot scarier. OU returned a blocked extra point for a defensive two pointer. Former All-Big Ten kicker Connor Culp has now missed five field goals and three extra points. For pure entertainment value, you need to see D.J. Graham’s interception of Adrian Martinez. – Dennis Dodd
Pro Football Focus – 3
What Pro Football Focus had to say:
Undisciplined play continued to be a major issue for Sooners quarterback Spencer Rattler against Nebraska, who couldn’t take advantage of multiple turnover-worthy plays in the first quarter. Overall, Rattler led the Sooners to only +0.03 EPA per pass while the coverage unit gave up far too many big plays when the pass-rush was unable to get home on Adrian Martinez. Oklahoma gave up +1.3 EPA per pass when Martinez had a clean pocket — their second-worst single-game mark of the PFF College era. Those two problems led to this close victory. Rattler has done a good job of hitting throws at the short and intermediate levels of the field this year, but his downfield decision-making has been poor, and he hasn’t made the special throws that can offset those mistakes. Rattler needs to clean this issue up soon in order for the Sooners to remain in the Tier 1 conversation with Alabama and Georgia. – Anthony Treash
Fox Sports – 6
What Fox had to say:
After all that, though, it was 7-3 at halftime in a game I thought OU might lead 73-0 at the half. And it was the first time the Sooners were held to single digits in the first half at Owen Field since being held to six points by Notre Dame in 2012. (I was covering that game, and James Harden was traded from the Thunder to the Rockets that night.) All this in a game in which Oklahoma didn’t turn the ball over as Nebraska deliberately slowed the game down. It wasn’t pretty, and no one wants to hear that a Nebraska team that lost to Illinois, and now OU, is decent. – R.J. Young
Athlon Sports – 3
The Sooners beat Nebraska to move to 3-0, but coach Lincoln Riley’s team hasn’t played up to its potential this year. Quarterback Spencer Rattler has to perform at a higher level for this team to win it all in 2021. – Steve Lassan
Sorting it all out
Oklahoma dropped one spot in the AP Top 25, but stayed put in the USA TODAY Sports AFCA Coaches Poll. In three of the five power rankings we found, the Oklahoma Sooners dropped after their week three win over Nebraska. The Oklahoma Sooners’ wins over Tulane and Nebraska haven’t met the eye test. Though they’ve gotten the wins, each of those games left fans, analysts, and at times the program itself, slightly disappointed that they weren’t more emphatic wins. That’s what comes with high expectations in college football. When a team is expected to be a national champion contender, it’s expected to wallop every team it plays against. The Sooners don’t get the same benefit of the doubt that other schools across the country get mostly due to their past shortcomings in the College Football Playoff. Whether right or wrong, it’s not enough for the Sooners to just win, they have to win pretty. Everyone’s waiting for Oklahoma to fail and prove they’re not worthy of placement in the college football playoff. Even in wins, like these close games over Tulane and Nebraska, people are going hold it against them. The Oklahoma Sooners have some ground to make up to be viewed as one of the elite teams in college football. Big 12 play starts with a tough matchup against West Virginia this week who is coming off an impressive win over previously ranked no. 15 Virginia Tech. The Big 12 set their conference schedule up for every game to matter. As the Sooners get ready for conference play, every game will play a role in their postseason aspirations.