In the coming years, a Big 12 athlete might benefit from the successful campaign staged by Baker Mayfield and Oklahoma. It took a second vote, but in early June, the conference changed a restrictive rule that worked against a walk-on who transferred within the league.
A legacy for future generations? Nope, not that interested.
“I haven’t thought about that much,” Mayfield said. “It’s special just to have an opportunity to have another year here. That’s the way I looked at it. It’s the right rule change.”
While others might talk about The Mayfield Rule, the Oklahoma junior quarterback would rather, at the end of this season, have people saying, “Mayfield rules.”
A year ago, uncertainty ruled in Norman. After an 8-5 season, Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops hired Lincoln Riley as offensive coordinator. Mayfield and Trevor Knight, who has since graduate-transferred to Texas A&M, were battling for the quarterback job during spring practice.
Now, Mayfield has established himself as one of the top quarterbacks in the country, and the Sooners are a preseason top-five team. With two of OU’s first three games against Houston and Ohio State, having a Heisman Trophy candidate at quarterback provides comfort and confidence.
“A year ago at this time we were still figuring out who our quarterback was going to be, and we were relatively new in the system,” Stoops said. “Having Baker run it all last year and all spring, all summer, I don’t think there’s any question he’s just so much more comfortable in the role, in what we’re asking him to do and his decision-making, all of it, I think is going to be really positive.”
The Sooners averaged 43.5 points and scored 50 or more in five of their last seven games. Replacing leading receiver Sterling Shepard and starting center Ty Darlington, the offensive line’s leader and anchor, will be challenging, but OU also has a thunder and lightning running back combination in Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon.
Stoops loves the comfort level his players have gained in OU’s offense:
“I don’t think there’s any comparison that we’re further along offensively than we were a year ago at this time. We were brand new in the system. That was the case for even the first half of the season. Coach Riley being more familiar with our guys in game situations and how we’re going to handle things … I don’t think there’s any comparison, offensively, that we’ll be much stronger starting the year and coming into the year than we were a year ago.”
Mayfield’s confidence and swagger will draw the ire of opponents’ fans, but the confidence and swagger he displayed last season will probably be more evident as he goes into this season as The Man.
“I’ve been more loose, not playing up tight,” Mayfield said. “I don’t have to worry about losing my starting spot if I make a mistake. I can go out and be who I am.”
For an under-recruited high school quarterback to now being the starter and a Heisman candidate at a national championship contender … that takes an athlete with the “it” factor.
“He’s definitely kind of the guy now for sure,” sophomore receiver Mark Andrews said. “We all look up to him. He’s Baker Mayfield now. I think it’s been different for him. He’s been able to be more calm and more relaxed and just to be able to do this thing and have everyone follow him.”
In leading Oklahoma to the Big 12 championship, Mayfield passed for 3,700 yards and 36 touchdowns with just seven interceptions. He also gained 405 yards rushing with seven touchdowns. His scrambling often befuddled pass rushers and kept plays alive.
With freshman Austin Kendall as OU’s backup quarterback, there’s concern about keeping Mayfield healthy. He missed the second half of the TCU game with a concussion, and he also suffered a concussion making a tackle against Clemson in the playoff semifinals after throwing an interception.
Stoops said the first concussion was the result of a cheap shot and the second a result Mayfield’s bad judgment trying to tackle a defensive end. Yet, the coach and his offensive staff understand they need to let Baker be Baker.
“They’re not going to coach that out of me. Even if they tried, I don’t think it would happen,” Mayfield said. “They know that’s who I am and that’s who I’ll always be: a competitor on the field, fearless, and not scared to take any hits. That’s why I wear pads and a helmet.”
Mayfield’s journey started in 2013 as a walk-on at Texas Tech. His first collegiate start was a record-setting performance. Then, still a walk-on, he transferred to Oklahoma. According to Big 12 rules, an athlete transferring to another league school would lose a year’s eligibility. Mayfield sat out the 2014 season to comply with NCAA rules. Last season he became a Heisman Trophy finalist while leading the Sooners to a Big 12 title and a spot in the College Football Playoff.
The 2016 season would have been Mayfield’s last one until the Big 12’s faculty representatives, on a second vote, decide to amend the Big 12 rule.
That was an off-season, off-the-field story. Mayfield is ready to close that book.
“I had a good year,” said Mayfield, who was placed on scholarship at OU in 2014. “But (now I’m) just trying to push and go get better … push us farther… The end goal is winning a national title game.”