It was a gut punch, a shocker and a cause for extreme concern in Sooner Nation. How could Oklahoma, 4-0 and ranked in the top 10, fall to rival Texas, a 1-4 train wreck?
This was 2015, a season after the Sooners had gone off the rails and finished with five losses. Then-coach Bob Stoops worked hard to convince his staff and his players that nothing of the sort was going to happen again, yet even Stoops, he’d later admit, was worried. But a walk-on quarterback named Baker Mayfield made believers of everyone. He put the Sooners on his back the rest of the way — seven straight victories, a Big 12 title and a trip to college football’s playoff.
Mayfield was only getting started. Here he is, back in the playoff after leading his team to a third consecutive Big 12 championship. How dominant has the 22-year-old senior been in 2017? Enough so that Saturday’s Heisman Trophy ceremony in New York might as well be a lazy stroll in Central Park.
With an efficiency rating in the 200s and a completion percentage in the 70s, Mayfield is taking his passing stat line where none has been taken before. Yards: 4,340. Touchdowns: 41. Interceptions: five. He was 27-for-35 for 386 yards and three touchdowns in the September upset victory at Ohio State. He annihilated Oklahoma State on the road in November with 598 yards and five touchdowns. He led nine touchdown drives — with no turnovers — in two wins over TCU, the Sooners’ chief conference threat.
Georgia coach Kirby Smart, whose team will face OU on New Year’s Day in Pasadena, Calif., likened Mayfield to Brett Favre for his fearlessness and big-play style. TCU coach Gary Patterson said the 6-1, 220-pound Mayfield “could probably be a linebacker, because he plays quarterback like a defensive guy. He’s going to challenge you and do the things he needs to do.”
Occasionally, Mayfield has done a thing or two that didn’t need to be done. He was arrested last February in Arkansas and charged with public intoxication, disorderly conduct and resisting arrest. He offended many associated with Ohio State by driving an Oklahoma flag into the turf at midfield at game’s end. He taunted players at hapless Baylor, calling the Sooners their “daddies.” And he F-bombed all of Kansas, it seemed, punctuating his disdain for the Jayhawks with an absurdly conspicuous crotch grab.
Dominant? Yes. Great? Indeed? But good? Not always.
Mayfield doesn’t give a rip. At Texas Tech, he became the first true freshman walk-on quarterback to start a season opener at an FBS school. After falling out with coaches there, Mayfield just kind of showed up one day at Oklahoma, before long had walked on to that team and, after sitting out a season under transfer rules, somehow managed to steal the starting job from two-year starter Trevor Knight.
Now he’s still running Lincoln Riley’s “Air Raid” offense — Riley having ascended from Mayfield’s offensive coordinator to his head coach — and doing it better than ever.
“The reason I came back [as a senior] was to play for a national title,” Mayfield said. “I came back to make sure that we had strong leadership and we would take care of our own business.”
Business is indeed good. A runaway Heisman victory will make that abundantly clear.
Top secret: My vote
As a Heisman voter, let me just say how misguided — nay, stupid — it is that the Heisman Trust forbids us from revealing our votes before the award has been presented.
There are a preposterously high number of Heisman voters, in the ballpark of 1,000. Is a simple reveal by a schmo with a laptop in Chicago really going to be the spoiler alert that breaks the camel’s back?
It’s Public Relations 101, people. At least, I’ve got to think so. P.R. may not be my game, but how could writing about the Heisman, debating who should win it, parrying back and forth about it on social media and the like possibly do anything other than raise the profile of the award?
The Heisman often is billed as the most prestigious individual award in sports, but does it really feel like that’s the case anymore? Has the Heisman, in part because it makes it so difficult for voters to write about it in any depth, lost its mojo?
Ah, well. I won’t rain on Mayfield’s parade any longer. And I darn sure won’t say whether or not I voted for him. Cough, cough.
Follow me on Twitter @slgreenberg.