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Season in Review – Oklahoma (#7)

The No. 7 ranked Oklahoma Sooners may not have made it to the College Football Playoff for the second successive year, but they did finish the regular season as strongly as any team in the country. The Sooners became the first Big 12 team in seven years to run through league play unblemished and in doing so they won their 10th Big 12 title after a Bedlam game victory over Oklahoma State in the season finale.

Oklahoma in 2016 was a textbook example of what can happen, if a team’s offense gets better as the season wears on. The Sooners had a couple of huge tests in the first three weeks of the season in games against No. 15 Houston and No. 3 Ohio State that would have vaulted Bob Stoops’ team right to the top of the polls- if they had won both. Instead the Sooners could not get things going on offense and a couple of losses had the team at 1-2 (win a win over UL Monroe) and reeling before their first Big 12 contest of the season.

It was the game against TCU when quarterback Baker Mayfield and wide receiver Dede Westbrook really started to show the form that would see both be Heisman Trophy finalists at the end of the year. The Sooners beat the Horned Frogs 52-46 and, while the performance was far from perfect, Mayfield accounted for four total touchdowns, and Westbrook caught two long bombs for scores.
This was the first of nine straight wins to end the year for an Oklahoma team that was getting stronger and more resilient by the week. The Red River Showdown game with Texas is always a tricky task for the Sooners, but OU was able to get past their fiercest rival 45-40, again thanks to the deadly Mayfield and Westbrook combination. This time the pair hooked up for three passing touchdowns and, along with 214 yards and a couple of scores on the ground from the finally healthy Samaje Perine, the Sooners held off a late Longhorns rally to really kick start their season.

The quirk of the 10-team Big 12 is that each team plays every other in league play, and (this year at least) there is no conference title game. After defeating Texas, the Sooners flew under the radar, gradually rising in the polls and knocking off team after team in convincing fashion. The only exception to this was a 66-59 shootout win over the always dangerous Texas Tech Red Raiders, but by the time OU was to meet No. 14 West Virginia on the penultimate weekend of the season, the Sooners offense was playing lights out football.

In a game that was supposed to be close, No. 9 Oklahoma routed West Virginia 56-28 behind a defense that created four turnovers. The Sooners jumped out to an early three touchdown lead and generally controlled the contest as Mayfield accounted for four more touchdowns in the victory. The final game of the season, and the de facto Big 12 Title Game, was a similar story as Oklahoma topped Oklahoma State 38-20 to win the Big 12 Title.

Mayfield finished the season with 3,669 yards passing and 38 passing touchdowns, while adding an additional 143 yards and six touchdowns on the ground. Primary target, and highlights machine, Westbrook had 1,465 yards receiving on 74 receptions with 16 touchdowns. The improvement of the two players over the course of the year mirrored the success of Oklahoma as conference play began and is the main reason that the Sooners were considered a dark horse to make the College Football Playoff late in the year.

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