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What’s wrong with Oklahoma? Three problems Sooners face that won’t go away

No two-loss team has ever made the College Football Playoff. No. 18 Oklahoma faces that grim reality after another shocking Big 12 loss.

The Sooners — the five-time defending Big 12 champions — are on full tilt after a 37-30 loss at Iowa State on Saturday. They lost in Ames for the first time in 60 years, and back-to-back games for the first time since 1999 (Bob Stoops’ first season).

Forget about the Playoff. The Sooners might not win the Big 12 for the first time since Baylor and TCU split the league championship in 2014. It’s one of the more shocking developments of the 2020 season under fourth-year coach Lincoln Riley.

The Sooners’ issues, however, boil down to three simple problems:

The defense

How many times can you say it? Oklahoma doesn’t have a national championship-caliber defense.

Kansas State rallied from a 35-14 deficit on Sept. 26, tallying 400 total yards — including 334 through the air. The Wildcats scored 31 second-half points.

Iowa State had more balance. The Cyclones hit up Oklahoma’s defense for 417 yards, 24 second-half points and back-to-back touchdown drives after falling behind 30-23.

Second-year defensive coordinator Alex Grinch is going to feel that criticism, especially because, over the last two weeks, Oklahoma has looked like just another average Big 12 team on that side of the ball.

Inexperience on offense

Spencer Rattler lost his second straight start, a loss that clinched when he misread a pass with 1:02 left in the fourth quarter. He tried to throw over the top for the game-tying score, but safety Isheem Young came up with the interception.

That’s inexperience.

It was Rattler’s first turnover of the game, and it came at the worst time. He finished 25 of 36 for 300 yards and two touchdowns, but it’s that ill-timed turnover that sealed the Sooners’ fate. Oklahoma doesn’t have a Heisman Trophy-caliber quarterback, and Riley is going to have to adjust the offense until Rattler develops into that kind of player.

You can’t pin all that on him, however. Oklahoma’s running game isn’t what it should be without Kennedy Brooks, who opted out of the season because of COVID-19. Trey Sermon transferred to Ohio State. T.J. Pledger and Seth McGowan combined for 23 carries for 94 yards.

McGowan and freshman receiver Marvin Mims are exciting pieces for the future who will grow with Rattler — but that big-game experience just isn’t there yet.

Big 12 style questions

Sometimes a team is a product of its environment. No. 9 Texas lost a 33-31 shootout to TCU on Saturday. Neither the Sooners nor the Longhorns have the look of a powerhouse program, leaving unbeaten, No. 17 Oklahoma State as the last hope for a true Playoff run in the conference.

Early upsets — when Arkansas State beat Kansas State and Louisiana beat Iowa State — offered a preview of the top-to-bottom-inconsistency that is in the Big 12 right now.

Oklahoma had been immune to that in previous seasons; Riley had a 24-3 record in conference play from 2017-19, and the back-to-back losses should send a message to a program that needs a jolt. Again, that hasn’t happened since 1999, when Mike Leach was the offensive coordinator.

The Sooners responded with a perfect season in 2000 en route to the program’s last national championship. Twenty years later, Oklahoma still is trying to get back to that level. They won’t get there this year, and there’s no time to think about the Playoff.

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