How big of game is it? It's the most difficult game in a season where losing a single game could end hopes of making it to the Final Four.
OU is now just a 4.5 point favorite over an undefeated and 25th-ranked TCU team playing with confidence and a new offensive scheme in perhaps the biggest regular season game in that school's history. And with non-stop babble about the Mighty SEC deserving two of the four slots in college football's first playoff, there's a decent chance that the winner of the Big 12 will be on the outside looking in if it doesn't finish the regular season with an unblemished 12-0 record. Lord knows this lowly league doesn't deserve much credibility after not winning any of the three non-conference opportunities to knock off big boys Florida State, Auburn and Alabama — although respectively, OSU, K-State and West Virginia all played that canonized trio to games that could have gone either way.
What we know for sure is that OU is capable of not having to mess with the inevitable ugly politics that will surround the selection of the Fearsome Foursome if it takes care of business and wins out. Statistics say there's just a 20.5 percent chance of OU winning out and 56.6 percent chance of winning the Big 12. Baylor is given just a 6.7 percent chance of winning out and 26.4 of winning the league. What all this means is it won't be easy for the Sooners to get out of Cowtown 5-0.
ESPN'S FPI statistics give OU a 64 percent chance of beating TCU, which they rate as the lowest single-game percentage on OU's remaining schedule. Every other game is currently above 80 with OU currently given a 66 percent chance of beating Baylor at home. Texas won't be easy, K-State's good, Baylor very good and OSU is always a challenge. But the FPI percentile takes several factors into consideration, most noticeably geography: Playing in Dallas shouldn't turn UT's limited offense into ones Colt McCoy led down the ramp; and OU gets the Wildcats, Bears and Pokes in Norman, where the Sooners are given the winning as a visitor is about as common as a Bob Stoops comedy routine. The numbers are what the numbers are. And they say this game will be a toughie.
TCU has never been known to have a strong home field advantage. But times have changed and insiders say TCU is primed and ready to rudely welcome the highly-ranked lads from Norman. For background, Predictionmachine.com rates the teams based on home field advantage. Oklahoma ranks No. 1. They report that right now home teams get around a 3.8 point advantage vs teams playing on a neutral field (so, around a 7-point difference for a team playing at home versus playing on the road. ESPN
Why are Gary Patterson's Horned Frogs just 4.5 point dogs? Number one, because of that. They are Gary Pattterson's Frogs. The guy can coach. He's up there with the Stoops brothers and Charles Strong as big-time conference defensive aces. And remember, this defense, that is playing without superstar defensive end DeVonte Fields -- whom Patterson punted after one too many off the field problems. They line up in 3-3-5 scheme the Sooners don't see very much. It will be load up to stop the run with the same purpose that most opponents will employ: make Trevor Knight beat them. Mostly with his arm.
Says here dropping Knight back in the pocket on a regular basis will be a problem. The expectation is Josh Heupel will need to run more true zone-read offense with Knight tucking and running more than he's done thus far. Protecting Knight has been the preeminent mindset of what OU's done so far with its offense. But beating a Gary Patterson defense, a Texas and likely even K-State will require the legs that helped Knight win the job in the first place.
The thinking here is that if OU can avoid a two or more turnover disadvantage, they'll defend TCU's much-improved offense well enough to outscore the Frogs. But turn it over, fall behind and stick with too much drop back passing and all the numbers and rankings and playoff conversations could become worthless.
Making it into the playoff with one loss is possible. And losing early and to a Top-25 team is the best option of losing and surviving. But to avoid the political winds to blow in a direction that would keep a one-loss OU team the odd-man-out, Oklahoma must take care of business Saturday. No doubt this game is bigger than most envisioned in the off-season. And yes, perhaps the most difficult.