Will Baker Mayfield’s Heisman hoopla derail his championship run?

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 09: Baker Mayfield of Oklahoma speaks at the press conference for the 2017 Heisman Trophy Presentation on December 9, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 09: Baker Mayfield of Oklahoma speaks at the press conference for the 2017 Heisman Trophy Presentation on December 9, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images) /

Last Saturday night, Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield was the man of the hour…and of the 2017 college football season.

After several months of Heisman watch stories and TV highlight segments, the trophy was officially presented a week ago, and, to the surprise of very few, the Sooner Magic Man, Baker Mayfield, was the 83rd recipient of college football’s most coveted individual prize.

For us fans, all the Heisman hoopla for the current season is seemingly in the rear-view mirror and all conversation about the award has transitioned to who the likely candidates will be for next season.

For recipients of the Heisman, however, the ceremony represents just the beginning of the events and activities that will forever change their lives. Speaking engagements, endless interview requests, autograph signings, commercial endorsement opportunities…the list goes on and on.

If it was only as easy as moving on, returning to Norman with a clear head a resuming the familiar lifestyle and daily routine. That’s what Sooner fans are hoping for, anyway. That Mayfield is back in the saddle on the Oklahoma plains, diligently preparing for what he hopes will be the final two games of his collegiate career and the final payoff that will cap his lengthy list of accomplishments as the starting quarterback of the Oklahoma Sooners: a national championship.

Mayfield will tell you that the next two weeks represent the culmination of what he has spent the entire last year preparing and working toward, both mentally and physically. He may not openly acknowledge this, but his decision to return to OU for a final season was predicated on three bold objectives: winning a third consecutive Big 12 championship, a successful run at the Heisman Trophy that had alluded him as a finalist the previous two seasons and, playing for and achieving the biggest team reward of all, the national championship.

So far, so good – two down and one to go. Successfully ascending to the summit, however, will require not one, but two more wins. First the Sooners need to get by SEC champion Georgia, and only then will they have that one last shot that Mayfield and his teammate have sweated, battled and worked so hard for since the beginning of preseason training back in the heat of summer.

Oklahoma Sooners Football
Oklahoma Sooners Football /

Oklahoma Sooners Football

Mayfield may be as good as any experienced, senior quarterback at being able to keep his eye keenly focused on the prize, but there are so many distractions and requests of your time that come with winning the Heisman the idea of being able to totally block it out verges on the impractical, if not the impossible.

There is some history that Sooner fans can relate to that bears witness to the perilous road that Heisman winners travel when it comes to performance in and the outcome of big games that follow the Heisman announcement.

After winning the Heisman in 2003 season, Jason White led the Sooners into the BCS National Championship against No. 2-ranked LSU. Oklahoma had been undefeated and ranked No. 1 going into the Big 12 championship game, staged one week before the Heisman presentation. Kansas State stunned the Sooners in the conference championship, delivering a 35-7 beatdown.

Despite suffering the humbling defeat to K-State in the Big 12 title game, the Sooners fell just one spot, to No. 2, in the final BCS rankings for that season. This was ground zero for all the controversy over allowing a team that does not win its conference championship to play for the national championship.

Suffering from an injured hand, reportedly hurt in the conference championship game with Kansas State, White completed just 13 of 37 passes against the iron-tight LSU defense and threw two interceptions in the BCS National Championship, a game that wasn’t really as close as the 21-14 final score indicated.

Five years later, in 2008, another Oklahoma quarterback, Sam Bradford, won the coveted Heisman Trophy, the fifth OU player to win the award, Bradford beat out Colt McCoy of Big 12 archrival Texas and reigning Heisman winner Tim Tebow of Florida.

Bradford won out over Tebow for the 2017 Heisman. As fate would have it, the two Heisman winners would go on face each other a month later, when No. 1 Oklahoma squared off against Tebow and the second-ranked Florida Gators in the 2009 BCS National Championship in the Orange Bowl. Although Bradford played reasonably well in the game, completing 18 of 30 passing for 231 yards but also a pair of costly interceptions, Tebow played better and willed his team to a 24-14 victory.

The Sooners actually were the beneficiaries of the so-called Heisman curse in reverse in their 2000 national championship season. Chris Weinke of Florida State won the Heisman that year, but Oklahoma quarterback Josh Heupel was the runner-up. The same two teams met in the BCS Championship game that season.

Although the Sooners were undefeated and ranked No. 1, Florida State actually was favored in the game, largely because of Weinke and the Seminoles’ high-powered offense. Except it was Oklahoma’s smothering, swarming defense that won the night, shutting down the high-scoring FSU offense and giving up just two points (on a safety).

Meanwhile Heupel outdueled his counterpart on the other side, completing 25 of 39 passes for 214 yards and leading a Sooner offense that possessed the ball 13 minutes longer in the game and kept Weinke and the Florida State offense watching from the sidelines.

Here’s hoping that three is charm and that this self-proclaimed Oklahoma Heisman curse ends at two with Mayfield leading the charge…two more times.