ARLINGTON, Texas — Jalen Hurts raced to AT&T Stadium’s end zone waving a large crimson Oklahoma flag in front of screaming fans.
The OU quarterback’s one-year legacy is yet to be determined. But the graduate transfer from Alabama has enjoyed a ride that now appears headed to the College Football Playoff.
Oklahoma defeated Baylor 30-23 in a hard-hitting Big 12 Championship game that drifted into overtime and will be etched as an instant classic.
Hurts hasn’t made many comparisons to his present and past. But after playing 10 league games including Saturday’s postseason contest, he defended his new conference.
“There is a narrative out there that the SEC is a different animal, but the Big 12 is tough,” Hurts said.
Sunday’s CFP announcement should be a mere formality for the Sooners, who watched every domino that needed to fall do exactly that since an Oct. 26 loss at Kansas State.
The final fell during a 24-hour stretch in which Utah lost in the Pac-12 Championship game on Friday, OU gained its overtime win and then LSU hammered Georgia in the SEC title game.
Oklahoma (12-1) controlled what it could control in winning its fifth consecutive Big 12 title.
“We’ve got several fifth-year seniors that are going to leave here with five rings on their finger and the majority of college football players leave and never have one true championship ring. It’s been an awesome run,” OU coach Lincoln Riley said. “Today is about this group and this team.”
OU has made a huge turnaround in defensive play this season. But entering the weekend, there remained doubters who questioned if the Sooners were CFP-worthy because of defensive play.
The Sooners made a statement against the Bears. OU tied a season high with 15 tackles for loss and added six sacks.
The defense’s biggest plays came in overtime.
The game entered the extra period tied at 23. Oklahoma had the ball first and scored in three plays, capped by Rhamondre Stevenson’s 5-yard touchdown run up the middle.
Baylor third-string quarterback Jacob Zeno threw two incompletions while being hurried by the Sooners’ Neville Gallimore and Ronnie Perkins. On third-and-10, Nik Bonitto and Jalen Redmond combined for a sack, and on the Bears’ final play, Redmond forced another bad pass to secure the win.
“Those guys up front were relentless. Absolutely relentless,” OU defensive coordinator Alex Grinch said. “You’re just sitting there looking at a call sheet and saying, ‘How do I not screw this up for them?’ And they obviously came through.”
Kenneth Murray drew one of the loudest ovations from OU fans Saturday when coming off the field following an injury. He only missed one play.
Murray has been the defensive commander all season and ended with 10 tackles including three for loss. He’s headed toward his third CFP appearance in as many years.
“Whether we play in the College Football Playoff or playing outside in the backyard, we’re going to play the way we play,” Murray said.
The Sooners took a 10-0 lead following Kennedy Brooks’ 6-yard run and Gabe Brkic’s 44-yard field goal with 4:51 left in the first quarter. Brkic connected on three field goals to move his mark to 17-of-17 this season.
Two first-half turnovers by Hurts in OU territory fed Baylor 10 points. The Bears took a 13-10 lead at intermission.
The Sooners regained control when Hurts hit Nick Basquine with an 18-yard touchdown pass. After Brkic’s third field goal, OU lead 23-13 with 10:31 left in regulation.
Baylor lost starting quarterback Charlie Brewer in the first half and replaced ineffective Gerry Bohanon with Zeno in the fourth quarter. Zeno promptly threw an 81-yard touchdown pass to Trestan Ebner to cut the Sooners’ lead to 23-20.
On Baylor’s next possession, Zeno found Chris Platt for a 78-yard pass to get to Oklahoma’s 18. The Sooners’ defense held Baylor to a field goal, and the game was tied at 23 with 3:25 remaining.
OU’s overtime heroics have lined the Sooners up for a likely third CFP appearance in as many years.
“You want to win a national championship. You want to have at least the chance to do that,” Basquine said. “I feel like we’ve done a great job to put ourselves in position for that. Obviously in my last year, I want to go out a champion.”