Oklahoma, Penn State, and USC each look for revenge this weekend
In 2016, aside from Clemson and Alabama, you would have been hard-pressed to find three teams that ended the regular season on hotter streaks than Oklahoma, Penn State, and USC. All three were left out of the College Football Playoff despite some cases being made for consideration for all three teams. All three were playing as well as anyone in the nation down the stretch. Oklahoma went on a nine-game winning streak and ran through the Big 12. Penn State and USC went on similar winning streaks and each beat a team that ended up in the College Football Playoff, with Penn State upsetting Ohio State and USC taking down Washington. Though left out of the College Football Playoff, all three went on to fill spots in the New Years Six with Oklahoma winning the Sugar Bowl and USC edging Penn State in a memorable Rose Bowl.
And to think how close each of these three teams was to a spot in the College Football Playoff. For each, a chance to get revenge for a pivotal loss from a season ago is on tap this weekend.
Sooners enter the Horseshoe
Oklahoma heads north to step foot in Big Ten country this weekend for a second game in a home-and-home series with Ohio State. Had the result of last year’s meeting in Norman gone differently, the College Football Playoff easily would have had a different look. Oklahoma’s loss to Ohio State ultimately kept the Sooners out of the playoff and pushed Ohio State into the mix even without a division title to call their own. Ohio State, at 11-1 and a head-to-head win against Oklahoma, was an easy pick to stay ahead of the 10-2 Sooners even with the Big 12 championship. Had Oklahoma been 11-1 with the Big 12 title and Ohio State was 10-2, we’re not even talking about the Buckeyes as a playoff candidate. Oklahoma would have been a lock.
So this week, the Sooners look to score that pivotal nonconference victory that could come back to help push them into the College Football Playoff. A week after the Big 12 saw Texas run over at home by a Big Ten team (Maryland) and Baylor was dropped at home by Liberty, the Big 12 is off on the wrong foot this season as far as national perception is concerned. Oklahoma needs this win. So does the Big 12.
Penn State looks to dominate the state
Penn State ultimately missed out on playing in the College Football Playoff because they lost two games last season. Had Penn State been 12-1 with the Big Ten championship, I strongly believe they would have been in the College Football Playoff over Ohio State, or perhaps over Pac-12 champion Washington. A blowout loss at Michigan may have been more damaging to Penn State’s playoff résumé, but a close loss at Pittsburgh in the renewal of the in-state rivalry hurt as well. Consider this game this weekend in State College some unfinished business for the Nittany Lions.
Penn State got off to a rough start against the Panthers last season, digging a deep hole in the first half before Saquon Barkley and Trace McSorley got in a rhythm. Penn State gained the momentum in the second half and looked poised to get out of western PA with a win before a late interception on what seemed like a misguided deep pass from McSorley was picked off. Little did we know at the time, chucking it up for his receivers would lead Penn State to a Big Ten title. Penn State has had a year to stew about not completing the comeback against the Panthers, and a win could help Penn State stay locked in on a larger goal this season.
Trojans take on the Cardinal
Like Penn State, USC has a pair of revenge game opportunities on their schedule this season. This week is the first one on the agenda with Stanford coming to the Coliseum. USC ended the 2016 season as one of the hottest teams in the nation, which led to an entire offseason of buzz and hype, but it was two losses in conference play that prevented USC from getting a crack at the Pac-12 championship. With two losses in Pac-12 play against Stanford and Utah, USC ended the season one game behind Colorado in the Pac-12 South. USC defeated Colorado in the season, so having just one of the two losses flipped to a W would have given USC a chance to play for the Pac-12 championship against a Washington team they had already defeated once.
The Trojans played a close game at Utah with Sam Darnold taking over as the team’s starting quarterback (this move played out well as the season continued). That happened one week after USC was defeated 27-10 at Stanford. To me, even though USC lost at Utah, this loss to Stanford was the true turning point in the season. After being run over by Alabama in the opener and then chopped down by Stanford a couple of weeks later, the loss to Stanford was the last straw for USC and things would be different from here on out.
This week, USC gets a chance to score revenge that is now years in the works against the Cardinal, which has been the top program in California for a while now. USC has lost three straight games against Stanford, and a win this week not only asserts USC as the top team in the state, but clears a massive obstacle on the way to what could be a Pac-12 championship season.
What about Auburn vs. the champs?
A good amount of focus about revenge will be centered on Oklahoma, Penn State, and USC this week, but Auburn is in a pretty interesting revenge situation this week as well.
Though far less consequential to Auburn’s overall season outlook, Auburn opened the 2016 season with a hard-fought home loss to Clemson last year. The Auburn Tigers took defending ACC champion Clemson, coming off an appearance in the national championship game, on in a defensive battle and came up short in a 19-13 defeat. So that qualifies Auburn for revenge this week as they hit the road to try and slow down the defending national champions in Death Valley. This one could turn out to be a fun game too, although the defenses could still be the story despite both teams having talented offenses that should do work this season.
And it should go without saying that a win for Auburn would be a huge boost to their season outlook this year. Beating a top four team on the road would be huge for Auburn and the SEC, and another tough blow for the ACC a week after going 0-3 against the SEC head-to-head.