On Saturday night, in the festive holiday setting that only New York City can provide, Baker Mayfield will become the sixth Oklahoma Sooner to receive the Heisman Trophy.
Only Notre Dame and USC, each with five Heisman winners, can boast more individual winners of college football’s most prestigious individual prize than the Sooners. An Ohio State player has won the Heisman seven time, but two of those belong to Archie Griffin, the only collegiate player to win two Heisman awards (1974 and 1975, ironically the same years Oklahoma was awarded the national championship, college football’s ultimate prize).
Mayfield, who has already won a boatload of individual honors this season (Maxwell Award, Davey O’Brien Award, Walter Camp Award and Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year, in addition to Associated Press First-Team All-American and Walter Camp First-Team All-American), will add one more piece of distinguished hardware to his collection on Saturday night, when he becomes the 83rd recipient of the Heisman Trophy.
Mayfield’s journey to become the top player in college football is unlike virtually every other Heisman winner.
A bit undersized but huge of heart when he arrived as a scrawny freshman in 2009 at Lake Travis High School in Austin, Texas, you would have never foreseen the future that was ahead for Mayfield, who has a good chance of receiving the most Heisman votes ever recorded.
He led his high school to a 25-2 record over two seasons as a starting quarterback and two state championships. Still, he was not heavily recruited out of high school. Mayfield thought he was going to receive a scholarship from TCU, but that never materialized and he ended up walking on at Texas Tech as a non-scholarship quarterback.
It’s probably not all that surprising that Mayfield beat out his competition and won the Texas Tech starting quarterback job, even as a freshman. He was the first Red Raider quarterback to start a season-opener as a true freshman, and he held on to the starting job through the first five games, all Red Raider victories.
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Mayfield sustained an injury in the Red Raiders’ fifth game of the 2013 season. He was out several games, but did return to action before season’s end and started several more games at Texas Tech. But as his freshman season wore on, Mayfield’s relationship with the Red Raider coaching staff grew in an unfavorably and, what he thought to be, an unstainable direction. After the 2013 season, he elected to leave Lubbock, Texas, and go where his heart was: to play football at Oklahoma.
Mayfield had enrolled in classes and was on campus in Norman before then-head coach Bob Stoops even knew he was there. There were no scholarships available on the OU football team, but that didn’t matter to Mayfield. He elected to walk-on one more time. He was forced to sit out the 2014 season because of NCAA transfer rules.
The Sooner coaches and players saw very quickly what OU had inherited because Mayfield was the quarterback of the Oklahoma scout squad offense during his season of ineligibility.
Mayfield’s numbers have improved in all three seasons he has been at Oklahoma, and, to the chagrin of probably every Big 12 coach not named Bob Stoops or Lincoln Riley, he gained one extra season of eligibility when it was ruled that his non-scholarship status playing for one season at Texas Tech and his subsequent transfer to OU should not have cost him a year of eligibility.
Mayfield will leave Oklahoma after this season as the No. 2 all-time passing leader in Sooner football history. He trails Landry Jones in career passing yards (12,005 to 16,646), but as the Oklahoma career leader as well as the NCAA record-holder in completion percentage and passing efficiency. He is on pace to shatter the passing efficiency single-season record he set just a year ago. Entering postseason play, Mayfield owns a PER of 203.8. The record he set last season was 196.4, and that was five points better than the previous record.
Since taking over the signal-calling duties at Oklahoma at the start of the 2015 season, Mayfield has started 34 of 35 games and compiled a record of 35-5 while at OU. Adding to that impressive resume is a legacy of winning all three games against in-state rival Oklahoma State and a 2-1 record against Red River archrival Texas.
In an article for ESPN.com, Jake Trotter quoted TCU head coach Gary Patterson paying Mayfield a high compliment. Patterson’s Horned Frogs have lost four consecutive games to the Oklahoma quarterback, including twice this season:
“He plays quarterback like a defensive guy,” Patterson said. “He could probably be a linebacker.”
Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney, whose Tigers have had better luck against Mayfield than any team (Clemson has beaten the Sooners in the postseason in two of the past three years) also had praiseworthy things to say about the OU All-American quarterback in an interview with ESPN’s Trotter:
“He’s a Heisman guy for a reason,” Swinney said. “Usually for your team, that means a lot of big plays. Usually there’s a lot of wins tied to those Heisman guys.
“Baker Mayfield is a great competitor…that’s why he’s had so much success.”
After Saturday, it will be time to put aside all the hardware and get down to work in preparation for fulfilling the ultimate reason Baker Mayfield returned to Oklahoma for one more season: to win a national championship. It’s just two wins away and well within Mayfield’s and the Sooners’ grasp.