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Submitted by Kelso Sturgeon on Wednesday, November 9, 2016 at 4:29 PM

The Oklahoma Soomers were dead in the water less than a month into the season. They lost their opening game at Houston and dropped a home game to Ohio State. In both cases, Oklahoma looked outclassed and they briefly fell out of the national rankings. But they’ve quietly played their way back into contention. OU is ranked #11 in the current College Football Playoff rankings and the two-year history of this event teaches us that there’s plenty of time to move on up. If you believe in OU, the potential rewards are great—a 45-1 payoff if they win an improbable national championship.

Should we believe in Oklahoma though? The case for optimism centers on their terrific quarterback, Baker Mayfield. With a 71% completion rate at 10.7 yards-per-attempt and a 31-6 TD/INT ratio, Mayfield’s production is nothing less than dazzling. He leads an offense that ranks seventh in the country and has averaged 48 ppg in Big 12 play. As we’re talking about longshot bets, Mayfield is 9999-1 to win the Heisman Trophy. Right now it looks like Louisville’s Lamar Jackson is going to run away with that award, but if he slips at all, Mayfield is as logical a candidate as any to ascend.

Mayfield has a big-play target in Dede Westbrook, who’s caught 64 balls for a field-stretching 18.2 yards-per-catch. Joe Mixon brings similar big-play explosiveness to the backfield. This offensive weaponry has helped the Sooners win some shootouts—they beat TCU 52-46, Texas 45-40 and Texas Tech 66-59.

That’s a good segueway to the more pessimistic part of our analysis and it’s the way Oklahoma does (or doesn’t) play defense. They’ve given up 31 ppg in conference games, to say nothing of being shredded by Houston and Ohio State. They have only one notable playmaker, Ogbonni Okoronkwo, a disruptive force off the edge. We’re dealing with a defense that can’t stop anyone and can’t make any big plays, which is a good formula for ranking 93rd in the country in points allowed.

The Sooners have gotten healthy in the standings on the soft part of their league schedule. Their three main rivals for the conference title are Baylor, West Virginia and Oklahoma State, all currently ranked in the Top 25. Those happen to the three remaining games on the OU slate. It’s well possible Oklahoma hasn’t improved at all.

We’ll find out down the stretch, starting with Saturday’s home game against Baylor. There are plenty of reasons to be skeptical of Oklahoma, from the valid questions about the validity of their current win streak to wondering if their defense would hold up in a Playoff game, to whether they’ll even get the necessary outside help to crack the Playoff to begin with.

The good news is that a decision doesn’t have to be made now. The 45-1 price is not likely to shift dramatically, even if Oklahoma plays well. The skepticism about the Big 12 runs too deep, the memory of those early losses still embedded in a lot of bettors’ minds. But at least keep the Sooners on your radar to see whether a late surge is possible.  

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