Jalen Hurts is headed back to the final four.
The Alabama Crimson Tide are not.
And neither are the Baylor Bears after Hurts and the Oklahoma Sooners beat them in the Big 12 Championship Game — a 30-23 overtime thriller Saturday at Jerry’s World in Arlington, Texas.
“These are hard to win,” Oklahoma head coach Lincoln Riley told reporters post-game. We found a lot of ways to win football games. We certainly did today.”
“People act like it’s supposed to be easy,” Hurts told reporters post-game. “It’s not supposed to be easy. Winning championships is hard.”
With this hard-fought win, the Sooners are most likely headed to the final four but have to await official word from the College Football Playoff selection committee, which is slated to announce the post-season combatants Sunday (noon ET, TSN2).
“I hope they see the Big 12 champions,” Riley told reporters post-game. “They’ve got a job to do — I get that. We’ve had a job to do as a team, which was continue to improve through the year, trust the things that we could and ultimately win the Big 12 championship. We’ve done that.”
Hurts has been the major reason why.
While Baylor has shown remarkable resilience in rebounding and rebuilding from a program-debilitating sexual assault scandal a few years back, Hurts rebuilt his college career with Oklahoma after losing his starter’s job with Alabama in the second half of the national championship game in 2018.
The dynamic QB used the transfer portal last summer to join Riley’s squad, and his subsequent stellar play has made him a likely Heisman Trophy finalist.
“I’m blessed to be where my feet are,” added Hurts, who’s now headed to his fourth straight College Football Playoff, while ‘Bama missed out with two-losses during the regular season. “How crazy it is to be here after starting as a true freshman for (Alabama) and winning the SEC championship and going to the national championship to be a Big 12 champion?”
The answer was in his performance Saturday, throwing 17-of-24 for 287 yards — teaming up with superstar receiver CeeDee Lamb on 173 of them — and running for another 38.
“I wrote a note to (Lamb) before the game, and I handed it to him when I shake everybody’s hand,” Hurts told Fox post-game. “I told him, ‘I said it’s time to let the dog off the leash and he’s loose. Yes, sir. Yes, sir.”
It didn’t help Baylor that it lost its dual-threat QB, Charlie Brewer, to an early-game injury and was forced to turn to its two backups.
Nonetheless, the never-say-die Bears rebounded from two 10-point leads built up by Oklahoma.
Redshirt freshman QB Gerry Bohanon proved ineffective for Baylor after an early TD throw, bringing on true freshman QB Jacob Zeno, who hit for two long majors to force OT.
But Hurts found Lamb and Rhamondre Stevenson rumbled for the five-yard TD to put Oklahoma up after its possession in overtime.
Then the Sooners defence slammed the door on Zeno and the Baylor offence to score the victory for the conference crown and — likely — the fourth and final berth in the CFP.
Well-deserved, for sure.
“There’s a narrative out there that the SEC is a different animal,” Hurts told reporters. “But the Big 12 is tough.”
It’s Oklahoma’s fifth-straight Big 12 crown.
SECOND & LONG
No. 5 Utah (11-2) blew its chance to shine on the big stage Friday night — and along with it lost what might be its best shot ever to make the final four. Utah got steamrolled early in a 37-15 drop to No. 13 Oregon (11-2) in the Pac-12 finale in Santa Clara, Calif. Oregon played its best game of the season, building a 20-0 halftime lead and getting 208 rushing yards game-long from CJ Verdell to slice apart a vaunted Utah defence. The decision gives Oregon its third conference title and sends it to the Rose Bowl on New Year’s Day, while Utah misses out on a golden opportunity to make the CFP. A win by Utah coupled with Georgia’s loss to LSU would have put Utah into the playoff … Anybody still doubting No. 2 LSU (13-0) after the SEC championship game isn’t paying attention. Heisman frontrunner Joe Burrow shredded arguably the country’s best defence for 349 yards and four TDs through the air in a 37-10 takedown of No. 4 Georgia (11-2). Saturday’s result should push LSU to No. 1 in the final CFP rankings, while Georgia misses out on a return to the final four. UGA had the inside track but needed the victory in Atlanta. LSU is just too good, though. “Just so proud of my football team and my coaching staff,” LSU head coach Ed Orgeron told CBS post-game. “But we said tonight, ‘This is not our final destination.’ Wherever they tell us to play next, we’re going to be ready.” … No. 1 Ohio State (13-0) took it on the chin early but rallied to dump No. 8 Wisconsin (10-3) 34-21 for the Big Ten title in Indianapolis late Saturday … Nothing wrong with the defending champs, as No. 3 Clemson (13-0) destroyed No. 23 Virginia (9-4) 62-17 in the ACC finale in Charlotte, N.C., to become the first team ever to win a fifth-straight conference championship game.
THIRD & GOAL
Give No. 17 Memphis (12-1) a conference crown and the Group of Five’s New Year’s Day berth in the Cotton Bowl after a 29-24 defeat Saturday of No. 20 Cincinnati (10-3) in the ACC finale. A six-yard TD pass from QB Brady White to Antonio Gibson with 74 seconds remaining proved to be the difference from host Memphis in what was a rematch from last week’s regular-season wrap-up. Now, Memphis awaits its official invitation to the Cotton Bowl … Same teams, same result, as No. 21 Appalachian State (12-1) topped Louisiana-Lafayette (10-3) for the second straight Sun Belt championship game. Saturday’s final in Boone, N.C., saw App State hold on for a 45-38 victory in a game during which it never trailed … No. 19 Boise State (12-1) topped Hawaii (9-5) 31-10 in the Mountain West Championship Game, getting bend-but-don’t break defence on the blue carpet Saturday in Boise … The MAC finale saw Miami-Ohio (8-5) upset Central Michigan (8-5) 26-21 Saturday in Detroit.
FOURTH & INCHES
Lane Kiffin is climbing the college football coaching ranks again, as he’ll join Ole Miss as the head coach fresh off Saturday’s Conference USA title take with Florida Atlantic. FAU (10-3) dominated UAB (9-4) in the conference finale in Boca Raton, Fla., with UAB allowing season highs in points and yards allowed (585) … Watch for Memphis head coach Mike Norvell to be named sidelines boss of Florida State on Sunday … Penn State likes what James Franklin’s done, going 55-23 during his tenure so far, inking the head man to another six seasons. It’s believed to be a contract worth $5.3 million per year plus bonuses.