COLUMBUS, Ohio -- On Tuesday, Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley turned 34, celebrating briefly in his office, where he had lunch with his 4-year-old daughter, Sloan, and she drew him a picture.
Four days later, the real party began, and a different picture became clear: Oklahoma, with the youngest head coach in the FBS, is to be taken seriously as a College Football Playoff contender.
Riley sprinted toward the fans near the north end zone in Ohio Stadium following his team's 31-16 win over No. 2 Ohio State on Saturday, waving his hands up, encouraging them to somehow yell louder than at the top of their lungs. As he made his way into the tunnel toward the locker room, Riley high-fived fans, stopping only when his predecessor, Bob Stoops, put an arm around his shoulder to hug him and say a few words in confidence.
"It was emotional," Riley said of the win.
Stoops was seemingly everywhere Saturday night, a permanent fixture in the program, but he intentionally stayed in the background to keep the spotlight on Riley, whose first career road win will arguably be the most impressive nonconference win of the season in the eyes of the 13-member College Football Playoff selection committee.
Last season, this was the game that got the Buckeyes into the CFP without even winning their division, illustrating the importance of strength of schedule. This season, it has the potential to do the same for the Sooners, as long as they can do what they did last year and win the Big 12.
"I told them in there, we'll be disappointed if this is the highlight of our season," Riley said. "We've still got a long ways to go. We've only played two games."
"Everyone is going to want to anoint us now," he said.
Oklahoma had youth everywhere on Saturday -- from a walk-on and a true freshman who scored touchdowns to the head coach himself -- and it didn't matter. OU beat No. 2 Ohio State soundly, with an exceptional performance from a defense that looked vastly improved from a year ago, and with quarterback Baker Mayfield outplaying the Buckeyes' J.T. Barrett. The win legitimized Oklahoma as a playoff contender and simultaneously boosted the entire Big 12, which has struggled to find its identity in the era of the College Football Playoff.
"It's special," Riley said. "It's one we'll look back on. With the whole world watching and them performing in an environment like this is special. I love road games. I think they're the best thing about college football, so I'll definitely cherish it, but it's really one game a week right now. You're as good as your last performance."
This one was pretty darn good.
Oklahoma racked up 490 total yards while holding Ohio State to just one touchdown. The Sooners' veteran offensive line had the edge against Ohio State's elite defensive line. Mayfield threw for 386 yards and three touchdowns, completing all but one pass in the second half. He led Oklahoma on four touchdown drives after the half, while Barrett completed 19 of 35 passes for no touchdowns and threw one interception in the fourth quarter that gave the Sooners all the momentum they needed to seal the deal.
"Man, it's a totally different game," said Parnell Motley, who had the interception in the fourth quarter. "It's a new defense, new mindset, new hunger, new everything. We just came out and played Oklahoma defense and came out and gave it all we got. We played this like it was already the national championship. We know Ohio State is one of the top contenders in the College Football Playoff, so we played this like it was the national championship."
OU defensive coordinator Mike Stoops said last year's 45-24 home loss to Ohio State was one of his worst coaching jobs. This year, the defense was the difference in the game.
"We did a better job of putting our players in position to have success," he said.
Much has been made about the hire of former Indiana coach Kevin Wilson as Ohio State's offensive coordinator, but Barrett continued to look average, and the offense hasn't made giant strides.
Still, the Buckeyes remain in the hunt for the CFP. They still have two ranked opponents on the schedule in Penn State and Michigan, and if OSU can win those games and play for the Big Ten title, the Buckeyes could also face another ranked opponent in the championship game.
They could be on the outside looking in, though, if Oklahoma also wins its conference championship, because the Sooners now own a head-to-head victory.
"Everybody in the program gets a game ball, so they'll all have a good keepsake," Riley said. "It's got to be a pretty special one to do that."
It was one the team -- and the selection committee -- will remember.