As the confetti streamed down on the AT&T Stadium field, Baker Mayfield sought out the man who changed the path of his college football career.
When Bob Stoops brought Mayfield to Oklahoma as a walk-on in 2014, it was one of those low-risk, high-reward moves that rarely result in huge dividends. Mayfield needed a change of scenery after things didn’t work out Texas Tech, and the Sooners were in a position to offer a lifeline and more important, a scholarship, to the former Lake Travis High star.
So there stood the best Austin-born quarterback since Drew Brees, a Big 12 title trophy tucked under his arm, posing with Stoops and his wife in the middle of an Oklahoma celebration after Saturday’s 41-17 title win over TCU.
“I’m proud of you, Baker,” Stoops said as the cellphone cameras clicked.
Mayfield was one of the best investments of Stoops’ storied career, and he came up with the goods at money time against one of the best defensive minds in the Big 12 in TCU coach Gary Patterson. The 243 yards passing and four touchdowns were modest enough, but the goal wasn’t to put up big numbers — it was to win.
As a result, the 12-1 Boomers, who were left for dead after that upset home loss to Iowa State, won their eighth straight game — all by double digits — and will represent the Big 12 in the College Football Playoff if the selection committee remains sane throughout the weekend.
Before we get to the national semifinals, expect to see Mayfield, decked out in his Sunday best next Saturday night, discussing the smartest move he ever made after he becomes the sixth Sooner to hoist the Heisman. Now, it should be pointed out that Mayfield hasn’t exactly been a poster boy for smart decision-making off the field. Even if he isn’t your cup of tea personally, I challenge you to deny his talent and resolve on a football field.
“He’s the best; it’s not even close,” Stoops said. “What can you say about him? He’s done it for three years straight.”
Stoops shocked the college football w0rld when he retired in the offseason after 18 seasons, handing over the coaching reins to his offensive coordinator, Lincoln Riley, and the brash young rifleman who, in Patterson’s opinion, “plays the game like a linebacker.”
The Riley-Mayfield relationship was strong before the former took the head coaching job. Things have been rosy for the most part despite a couple of missteps by the quarterback, who is admittedly working on himself.
“He’s done a lot of great things in his career, but he hasn’t been perfect, and he hasn’t been coached perfect throughout his career,” Riley said. “There’s always room to improve. You never get to perfection in this game. We all chase it, but you never get there, and it’s a constant battle.”
As for the game, Mayfield made it look easy against the league’s stingiest defense. He connected with reliable tight end Mark Andrews for two touchdowns, and when the Frogs’ pass rush did get home at one point in the second quarter, he broke contain and scrambled for 54 yards.
A chance to move ever closer to a national championship wasn’t about to slip through his fingers before an announced crowd of 64,104, most of them wearing Oklahoma crimson. He put the Horned Frogs away with touchdown passes of 55 and 52 yards in the third quarter and celebrated on the sideline with his teammates. This time there would be no crotch grabbing or f-bombs directed at the opposition, just an elite quarterback at the controls of an offense that will be one tough out come the semifinals.
“The reason I came back was to play for a national title,” he said. “The most exciting thing about today was we controlled our own destiny. We just had to take care of business and all that is out in front of us.”
Some Heisman voters will be turned off by some of the things Mayfield has done this season. The public intoxication video before the season, the planting of the OU flag in Columbus, Ohio, and the embarrassing display in Lawrence, Kan., will be discussed ad nauseam over the next few days, but his play in 2017 cannot be overlooked. He has been outstanding from start to finish, and like him or not, he is must-see television.
The 4,340 passing yards, 41 touchdowns against only five interceptions, and 71 percent completion rate are numbers that explain themselves, but his impact and unflappable confidence have been the story of OU’s season and the reason he should win the Heisman.
“Obviously, I’m not going to downplay it,” he said. “That would be something very special. Just getting to go is special enough. The reason I came back is for a national title.”
Why not have both?