Analysis | College football winners and losers: Oklahoma’s win is huge for Baker Mayfield and Big 12

Baker Mayfield’s nearly flawless outing was a striking turnaround from last season’s loss to Ohio State. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Oklahoma learned its lessons well from last year’s encounter with Ohio State. It’s helped place the Sooners in an enviable spot in its chase for a playoff berth.

One victory, even Saturday’s 31-16 triumph in Columbus, assures Oklahoma (2-0) of nothing. But it’s a victory likely to hold up over the course of the season and it provides a cushion in case the Sooners do trip up against somebody during Big 12 play.

Baker Mayfield, so flummoxed by Ohio State’s skilled secondary last season, encountered a much less experienced group of defensive backs Saturday. He completed 27 of 35 for 386 yards and three touchdowns, a nearly miscue-free outing that was a striking turnabout from the 45-24 loss in Norman in their previous meeting.

And don’t forget about the Sooners’ defense, which forced Ohio State to kick field goals in three of its four trips into the red zone. That group is better this year, too, even if it won’t get as much attention in an offense-centric league.

As much hubbub as there was about the Big 12 adding a “13th data point” in the form of a league title, what it really needed was its best team to snag a high-profile victory in nonconference play and then win the league. Oklahoma took care of the first half of that equation in Columbus.


* Clemson: Dabo Swinney’s team earned a 14-6 victory over Auburn, smothering the Southeastern Conference visitors and allowing 117 yards in the process. Yes, Clemson is going to rely on its defense to win games, and it’s going to work a lot of the time.

A thought on the Tigers’ D: It might not be the best unit of coordinator Brent Venables’s tenure in Death Valley (he’s had some good ones). But because of the ACC’s quarterback attrition after last season, it might seem like it.

Well, except for that Jackson guy at Louisville (see below), which Clemson must visit next week. That should be a fun matchup.

* Georgia: It’s tough to know just how good Notre Dame is. In case you haven’t heard, the Irish went 4-8 last season.

Nonetheless, Georgia followed the exact template it requires to win the toughest games on its schedule, and it did so with a true freshman quarterback starting his first game. The Bulldogs handed it off a bunch, bottled up the run and got a turnover when needed. What they didn’t do was take care of the ball (two turnovers) or play with enough discipline (12 penalties). That needs to change, but it’s still worth it for Georgia to celebrate its 20-19 victory in one of the sport’s most storied venues.

* Southern California: So much for that lackluster opener against Western Michigan. The Trojans took it to Stanford, 42-24, as Sam Darnold threw for 316 yards and four touchdowns and Stephen Carr and Ronald Jones II both went over 100 yards rushing.

In a sense, it was reminiscent of what Stanford has done to opponents during David Shaw’s tenure. The Trojans simply clubbed the Cardinal, and Darnold was more than able to take advantage of what presented itself. Without a regular season matchup with Washington, the Trojans’ chances of running the table in the Pac-12 are greatly enhanced with this rout.

* Lamar Jackson: The Louisville quarterback and defending Heisman Trophy winner had one of his patented absurd performances, throwing for 393 yards and three touchdowns while rushing for 132 yards and three more scores in a 47-35 victory at North Carolina. This comes a week after Jackson carried the Cardinals (2-0, 1-0 ACC) to a tighter-than-expected defeat of Purdue.

It also came a few days after North Carolina linebacker Andre Smith insisted to reporters that Jackson wouldn’t be an issue. “He’s not going to beat us,” Smith said. “We’re just going to stop anything that he tries to do.” Well, the Tar Heels (0-2, 0-1) held him to fewer than 530 total yards, so maybe that’s a minor victory.

This showing cements two of last weekend’s takeaways. One, Louisville might only go as far as Jackson can take it, but he can do a lot. Two, North Carolina’s defense has regressed from middling to dreadful after the departure of coordinator Gene Chizik.

* Army and Navy: It wasn’t expected for either of these service academies to get to 2-0, but they have arrived there nonetheless. Army is off to back-to-back 2-0 starts for the first time since 1979-80 after scoring a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns in a 21-17 defeat of Buffalo.

Meanwhile, Navy fended off Tulane, 23-21, in its conference opener. The Midshipmen had the option of letting Tulane take over inside its 5-yard line with about two minutes to play or accept a penalty and face a fourth and one. For Navy, this is never much of a choice. Sure enough, the Mids kept the ball, got a first down and ran off the rest of the clock to finish off the triumph.

* Penn State: Smacked Pittsburgh, 33-14, in a Keystone State rivalry game, in the process delivering payback for one of the Nittany Lions’ three losses from a season ago.

The encouraging sign here for James Franklin’s program is that Penn State should have created problems for a Panthers team without its best defensive player (safety Jordan Whitehead) and dealing with unremarkable quarterback play. It did what it was supposed to do, and that bodes well for when the Nittany Lions deal with the likes of Indiana, Maryland and Michigan State this season.


* Louisiana Tech, literally, on one play: The Bulldogs, already trailing Mississippi State 57-14 in the fourth quarter, went from second and goal to third and 93.

* Baylor: So the loss to Liberty wasn’t remotely a fluke. The Bears fell, 17-10, to a fast-improving Texas-San Antonio program, and in the process probably said some prayers of gratitude that in-state promotion and relegation is not permitted in Power Five programs.

Now a scary thought about Matt Rhule’s first season: The Bears’ next five games come at Duke, at home against Oklahoma, at Kansas State, at Oklahoma State and then back home against West Virginia. There is a very real chance Baylor is 0-7 by the time Texas rolls into town in late October.

* Auburn: The Tigers’ problem is the same as it’s been since the start of the 2014 season. Their offense is erratic and often one-dimensional, and their running game isn’t so imposing that it can do as it pleases against good defenses.

Auburn (1-1) managed 38 yards on 42 carries and it averaged 3.3 yards per passing attempt. Yuck. Clemson’s defense is really good, but so is Alabama’s. And Louisiana State’s. And Georgia’s. It’s not hard to see the Tigers finishing 8-4, no matter how well its underrated defense continues to acquit itself.

* Ohio State: Falling to Oklahoma doesn’t end the Buckeyes’ playoff hopes. They should know that better than anyone, since losing at home to a far weaker Virginia Tech three years ago didn’t prevent Urban Meyer’s bunch from not only securing a playoff bid but winning the event.

What the stumble against the Sooners does do is eliminate Ohio State’s margin for error. Maybe it could become the first two-loss team to earn a playoff bid — this would hypothetically happen with a loss to either Penn State or Michigan that doesn’t prevent the Buckeyes from winning a Big Ten title and is coupled by a chaotic year elsewhere. But Ohio State might have to run the table now to realize its national title hopes.

* East Carolina: Some coaching changes are puzzling, a feeling with a tendency to fade if the new coach fares as well or better than his predecessor. When things get worse — a lot worse — in a hurry, it’s easy to keep pointing to an odd decision.

Such is the case with the Pirates. Ruffin McNeill was a commendable 42-34 in six seasons. He is an East Carolina alum. But after posting a 5-7 mark that featured four one-possession losses in 2015, McNeill was ousted.

The Pirates went 3-9 in Scottie Montgomery’s first season, then opened this year with a 34-14 loss to FCS-level James Madison (as an underdog). Saturday, East Carolina lost, 56-20, at West Virginia after trailing 49-3 at the break and doesn’t look like a good bet to even match last year’s win total.

More college football coverage:

Howard football’s ride ends with loss at Kent State, but for a few moments there …

Terps are all in behind Kasim Hill after stellar first start

Maryland offered $10,000 to a student if the Terps returned a punt for a touchdown

Zach Abey helps Navy edge Tulane to improve to 2-0

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