Thumping Baylor sets the stage for showdown with West Virginia

OU quarterback Baker MAyfield passes the ball during the Sooners' game against Baylor, Saturday, Nov. 12, 2016, at Owen Field.

Whether it was Oklahoma’s players or its coaching staff that came up with it doesn’t matter. Ask any of them about what time of year it is and two words come out: Championship November.

It’s the first thing that came to OU linebacker Jordan Evans’ mind when asked about the critical stretch that began with Saturday’ 45-24 victory over Baylor.

The victory lifted OU to 8-2 overall and 7-0 in the league. And was the first of three significant obstacles OU has to navigate to win another Big 12 title.

The next hurdle is at 7 p.m. Saturday at No. 10 West Virginia.

“Always a challenge. An exciting challenge,” OU coach Bob Stoops said. “They’ve always got a raucous, rowdy crowd at West Virginia. It’s a challenging place to go play.”

The thing you have to wonder about the Sooners is how much they’ve been challenged of late. The Sooners moved up one spot to No. 8 in Sunday’s Associated Press Top 25 poll. The College Football Playoff poll, which comes out Tuesday, is the one that decides the four teams that earn playoff berths. OU continues to at least trend in that direction.

They’ve won seven straight games and the last three have been by double digits.

The Sooners are a better team than they were in September, when their playoff hopes suffered what were thought to be crippling blows. 

One of the quirks or beauties of college football is the entire season matters. What happens at the end is critcial. The beginning doesn't go unnoticed.

OU has remained mum on the playoff because of what happened in September. Players invested in the importance of a Big 12 championship. OU can clinch a share of with a win at West Virginia.

“We're in control of our destiny right now. Like I said, it's on to the next one and one game at a time,” OU quarterback Baker Mayfield said. “It's really exciting to go to Morgantown. They always bring it. It's going to be a great matchup.”

A glance through the Sooners’ schedule shows they haven’t had many of those in Big 12 play. As of Sunday, it has not faced a currently ranked in the Top 25. TCU was at No. 21 when OU faced Oct. 1. It dropped out after that game and hasn’t been back. Baylor was a top 10 team three weeks ago. Now it’s out and unlikely to return.

The Mountaineers provide the first chance for an impressive victory since Ohio State rolled through the Sooners on Sept. 17.

“Games like this, we look forward to and we’ll be ready for it,” tight end Mark Andrews said catching four passes for 53 yards against Baylor.

The Sooners believe they’re a different team than they were the last time they played a top-10 foe.

The defensive improvements showed against the Bears. The 24 points were least OU has given up to Baylor since 2010. It still allowed 504 yards. But forcing two red zone turnovers — an interception by Evans and a fumble recovery and a fumble recovery by Ahmad Thomas — kept the Sooners from getting into a shootout.

“It's just making the plays when plays come to you,” Evans said. “I feel like guys were flying around, trying hard, trying to force things out, try to make big plays. Guys are doing that; something's going to come your way.”

The Sooners’ season has followed the same track. They’ve improved since September and are two high-profile games away from claiming a second straight Big 12 championship. At the rate top-10 teams continue to lose, the may still work their way into the College Football Playoff discussion. The time to state their argument has arrived.

John Shinn

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jshinn@normantranscript.com

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