Oklahoma State's Gordon Putting Up Barry Sanders-Like Numbers Heading Into Big 12 Title Game

Ollie Gordon II channeled Barry Sanders on his final run last Saturday against BYU –- the one that ultimately propelled Oklahoma State into the Big 12 Championship Game.

Tuesday, November 28th 2023, 1:46 pm

By: Associated Press


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Ollie Gordon II channeled Barry Sanders on his final run last Saturday against BYU –- the one that ultimately propelled Oklahoma State into the Big 12 Championship Game.

In the second overtime, he took a handoff, darted left and shrugged off a defender before reversing field. He then launched himself over two BYU players into the end zone to provide the 40-34 margin.

It was the kind of electrifying run that Sanders, Oklahoma State’s 1988 Heisman Trophy winner, was known for.

Gordon’s similarities to Sanders didn’t end there last Saturday. He ran for five touchdowns against BYU –- tying the school record Sanders reached three times in 1988. He ran for 282 yards against West Virginia and 271 against Cincinnati –- becoming the first Cowboy to rush for at least 250 yards in consecutive weeks since, again, Sanders in 1988.

Gordon is in awe whenever he achieves something Sanders accomplished.

“It’s definitely a huge thing, especially coming here, being at Oklahoma State,” Gordon said. “Barry Sanders — big name around here. Everybody knows who he is. Barry Sanders is Oklahoma State, you know what I’m saying? That’s a guy that -- he’ll forever be remembered at Oklahoma State. So it’s really huge being in the same category as him, honestly.”

Gordon had just 19 carries for 109 yards through three games before breaking out. Now, he leads the nation with 1,580 yards rushing and ranks second with 20 rushing scores heading into Saturday’s Big 12 title game against No. 7 Texas.

Gordon is one of three finalists for the Doak Walker Award, which goes to the nation’s best running back. The Longhorns’ College Football Playoff hopes could hinge on whether they can slow the 6-foot-1, 211-pound bruiser.

“Ollie Gordon’s a heck of a player,” Texas coach Steve Sarkisian said. “They have done a great job offensively of leaning into him. He really signifies who their team is.”

Gordon combines elements of two of his favorite backs — he runs with force and power like Derrick Henry, yet has smoothness, patience and a long stride like Le’Veon Bell. His ability to change direction is elite for a back his size.

“He’s a really impressive back,” Texas linebacker David Gbenda said. “A big back with good vision, good cuts. He can take the ball anywhere. When he sees it (a space), he’s going to take it wherever he wants to go. We can’t give him too much.”

Gordon never carried more than 17 times in a game his freshman season. This season, he has reset his career high for rushing attempts five times. He had 16 carries for 72 yards and four touchdowns after the third quarter against BYU and had a career-high 34 carries in the game.

“I feel like he gets stronger as the game goes on, like a lot of big physical backs do,” Sarkisian said. “A lot of his best runs come in the second half when teams wear down. He has the hard yards, the tough yards between the tackles, but yet he has the big-play ability to make those long runs.”

Gordon also has good hands. He caught six passes for 116 yards in a win over Kansas. He ran for 168 yards that day, starting a run of three straight games with at least 250 yards from scrimmage. He is the only FBS player in the past 10 years to accomplish the feat.

Though best known for his power, Gordon he has broken off several long runs, including a 75-yarder for a touchdown against Cincinnati. He said his blockers have opened things up for him.

“Seeing my line dominate blocks, my tight ends, fullbacks dominate blocks — it’s just a great sight to see,” Gordon said. “And that’s what really allows us to have so many carries a game. We pride ourselves on hard-fought, downhill football.”

For all the attention Gordon draws, Oklahoma State’s offensive success comes from a balanced attack. Quarterback Alan Bowman, a transfer from Michigan, has passed for 2,808 yards. Brennan Presley has 76 catches for 746 yards and five touchdowns, and he has rushed for two more scores. Rashod Owens has 49 catches for 646 yards, and Leon Johnson III has 27 catches for 446 yards, all in the past five games.

Gordon said offensive coordinator Kasey Dunn has made the offense work.

“He’s a great guy, great coach,” Gordon said. “Coach Dunn -- he’s a real people person, but he will keep it 100 with you. I feel like we’ve all grown together over this year just having new pieces. I mean, we have a new starting quarterback. We have some young guys playing in the rotation. But coach Dunn just had to find his way to trust us. And I feel like with us handling business as we have been, it’s given him more ways to open up playbooks and just trust us with certain situations.”

Loaded Field Of CFP Contenders For Last 4-Team Playoff Fuels Championship Weekend Drama

The four-team College Football Playoff is going out with the most crowded field of contenders and the most consequential championship weekend in the 10-year history of the system.

Eight teams have at least a glimmer of hope to make the field. Yes, that means you, too, Ohio State.

The penultimate CFP rankings will be released Tuesday night. The field for the playoff will be announced Sunday.

Determining which teams are CFP contenders heading into championship weekend is a bit subjective. More often than not a Power Five team with only one loss going into the conference title games — regardless of whether that team is playing — has to be considered alive.

No team with two losses has ever made the CFP, but at least a couple of times a team with two losses had to be considered in contention when it played for a conference title. Auburn in 2017 is the most obvious example.

That season was one of the few where championship weekend had multiple games matching CFP contenders. More commonly, championship weekend hasn’t been about teams playing their way into the field as much as watching for whether teams might play their way out.

Last season when Southern California lost the Pac-12 championship game on Friday night, the field was practically set before Saturday’s games kicked off.

Georgia and Michigan won their conferences to stay perfect and lock down the top two seeds, but would have gotten in regardless. TCU lost the Big 12 title game and got in. Ohio State slipped in the backdoor without playing.

Alabama coach Nick Saban politicked for the Tide to get in with two losses, but there was no real drama heading into selection Sunday.

This year, every conference championship has at least one CFP contender. The Pac-12 and the SEC each have two. Two-time defending champion Georgia might be able to lose to Alabama and make the field, as it did on the way to the national title in 2021, but that is far from a guarantee.

There are multiple scenarios that could play out this weekend and leave the 13-member CFP selection committee facing almost impossible choices Saturday night.

With such strong teams on top of college football this season, it would seem to be a perfect time to have a 12-team playoff to accommodate them all. That’s coming next year.

Though an argument could be made if there were more seasons like this that produced dramatic championship weekends and intrigue heading into the selection Sunday, maybe the CFP would not have needed to expand.

Here are the paths to the final four for the contenders.

Georgia, Michigan, Washington

With perfect records, it is simple: win and you’re in.

Being unbeaten provides some hope of backing in. Especially, for the Bulldogs, winners of 29 straight games.

Florida State

The Seminoles are perfect and in playoff position heading into their Atlantic Coast Conference title game against Louisville, but an injury to star quarterback Jordan Travis creates some uncertainty.

“You want to be pushing and playing your best ball in November so you can go into December and have these opportunities,” Florida State coach Mike Norvell said.

Leaving an unbeaten Power Five conference champion out of the playoff would be unprecedented — and some would say unfair. But the committee is instructed to judge the team as it is entering the postseason.

If Florida State muddles past Louisville and Alabama beats Georgia in a competitive game, leaving the two-time defending national champion 12-1 but without a conference title, the committee will face this question: Are the Tate Rodemaker-led Seminoles better than the Bulldogs?

Oregon, Texas, Alabama

Life is more complicated for these three 11-1 teams playing for their conference titles.

The Ducks seem to have the clearest path. The committee has had them ahead of Texas for weeks, so it would stand to reason if they beat Washington and win the Pac-12 they are good to go.

Texas fans don’t want to hear that and have been frustrated with the Longhorns’ placement behind Oregon. It’s a fair complaint, but unlikely to change now with Texas playing Oklahoma State (9-3) in the Big 12 title game and Oregon getting a chance to avenge its loss to Washington.

Texas might also have a case in a comparison against the current version of Florida State. And if Alabama can pull the upset in the SEC, that could help the ‘Horns, who beat the Tide in Tuscaloosa in September. Right?

Well ... the SEC champion has never been left out of the playoff and having one that stops Georgia’s 29-game winning streak be the first would be surprising.

“This is one of the most competitive venues in college football,” Saban said of the SEC championship game. “We’re obviously playing one of the best team’s in college football. If not the best team in college football.”

Among these three, Texas seems most likely get the squeeze, and Alabama is the weekend’s biggest wildcard.

A Tide victory makes everything more complicated.

OHIO STATE

In a world where Florida State, Oregon, Texas and Alabama lose, the Buckeyes look like winners.

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Follow Ralph D. Russo at https://twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP and listen at http://www.appodcasts.com. Get alerts on the latest AP Top 25 poll throughout the season. Sign up here. AP college football: https://apnews.com/hub/college-football and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-football-poll

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