MIAMI – For the second straight season, Oklahoma was selected to play in the College Football Playoff, and for the second straight season, the Sooners walk away asking themselves what if.
Most knew it would be a tall challenge to beat Alabama, who has been ranked No. 1 the entire season, but with the explosive offense the Sooners employ combined with the Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Kyler Murray on its roster, there was some hope that OU could hang with the Tide.
However, after the worst start since Lincoln Riley has been in charge of the Sooner football program, Oklahoma found itself down 28-0 early in the second quarter. It looked like the Sooners were in line for one of the most lopsided games in college football bowl game history.
From that point forward, OU outscored Alabama 34-17. The Sooners lost the game 45-34 but can leave with their heads held high knowing they didn’t lay down when the game was seemingly over early in the second frame.
One or two more stops late in the second half and we may be sitting talking about a different outcome, but it didn’t happen.
Oklahoma is one of the most prestigious programs in college football and is up there in the top five currently after being selected to three of the five College Football Playoffs and winning the Big 12 Conference Championship four straight years.
However, the next step is cracking the code of getting to the Alabama and Clemson level. The Tide and Tigers will play for the fourth straight season on Jan. 7 in Santa Clara, California.
How can the Sooners get to the next level? Simple improve on defense. Riley faces the most important decision of his young coaching career this offseason when he chooses Oklahoma’s next defensive coordinator.
If Riley makes a good hire, OU will have a chance to take that next step. If he doesn’t, the Sooners could be headed for more disappointments like they one they felt tonight and last year in their loss against Georgia.
Riley has Oklahoma headed in the right direction. The fight the Sooners showed against Alabama proved that, but only time will tell if OU is truly ready to hoist the national championship trophy.
Winning the Big 12 Conference Championship and being selected to go the College Football Playoff are great accomplishments. You combine those with two-straight Heisman Trophy winners and you have one heck of a college football program.
However, national championships are what defines programs like Oklahoma. We will see if Riley can deliver in the future because asking the question “what if” will get old real fast.