Nationally, Oklahoma is celebrated most for a likely Heisman Trophy winner, with a cast of lesser-known players orbiting around him to give the Sooners such gaudy offensive stats.
But on Saturday, in a 41-17 win over TCU in the Big 12 Conference title game, OU quarterback Baker Mayfield was merely a conduit on a team with a sole focus of winning a national championship.
There should be little doubt that OU will be among the four teams selected for the national playoffs, which will be announced Sunday morning. No one on the College Football Playoff committee, which was meeting at a hotel 30 minutes away from AT&T Stadium, should question the Sooners’ credentials.
When the Horned Frogs lined up to thwart OU tailback Rodney Anderson, Mayfield found towering tight end Mark Andrews isolated on a safety or he scooted past the defensive end for a drive-sustaining first down. If TCU blitzed, Mayfield threw deep to speedy Mykel Jones or wispy Marquise Brown. And when it was time to wipe chunks of time off the clock, Mayfield went back to Anderson.
“We have all the pieces, and it’s just right now we’re playing well together, and that’s the most exciting thing,” Mayfield said. “I came back (for his senior year) to make sure that we had strong leadership and we could take care of our own business, and right now, we’re doing just that.”
There was no way the TCU defense, considered the top unit in the league, could contend with what the Sooners had in their offensive arsenal, whether it was a variety of counters or deep passes down the sideline.
“You’ve got to win in different ways this month,” said Lincoln Riley, OU’s rookie coach. “There is so much that goes into it, you’ve got to win in different ways.”
Even the OU defense, considered a flaw in the Sooners’ otherwise impressive season-long body of work, responded with an early 18-yard fumble recovery for a touchdown. They then shut down the Horned Frogs in the second half, limiting TCU to four first downs, 95 yards and zero points. What had been a 24-17 game at halftime morphed into a Sooner celebration complete with a big trophy and confetti cannons.
Mayfield was the game’s most outstanding player. His performance probably will be good enough to clinch the Heisman Trophy. But the game represented a blueprint for what OU can do against the other top teams in the country.
Mayfield’s numbers seemed almost pedestrian. He completed 15 of his 23 passes for 243 yards, with two touchdowns to Andrews and second-half scoring throws to Brown and Jones.
TCU devoted its defense to stopping Anderson, who had burned the Frogs for more than 100 yards rushing and receiving the last time the teams met. Anderson gained 93 yards on 24 carries, and he wasn’t needed in the passing game. Mayfield also rushed for 65, including a 54-yarder on a zone read keeper that was the longest run in his college career.
TCU coach Gary Patterson compared this year’s version of the Sooners to the high-octane offensive team OU produced in 2008. Coincidentally, OU quarterback Sam Bradford won the Heisman and the Sooners reached the national title game.
“You have to give Oklahoma a lot of credit,” said Patterson, whose 10-3 team might be bound for the Alamo Bowl. “I’m proud of them for being our conference champion. You want to beat them; now, at the end of the day, you need to cheer for them. They asked me if I thought they were one of the best ones in the country. I said yep. … That’s a very good group that you have across from us. And they did a very good job and made the plays they needed to today. And we didn’t.”