Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield has one more chance to impress before the Heisman Trophy winner is announced on Dec. 9.
By most accounts, Mayfield is a lock to win the award, despite what some would call less-than-stellar sportsmanship from the Lake Travis High School grad. He finished third in the voting a year ago.
The Heisman’s mission statement includes character traits in determining a winner “whose performance best exhibits the pursuit of excellence with integrity.”
On the field, however, Mayfield has more than passed the test. He has thrown for 4,097 yards (second nationally) and leads the nation with a 203.3 passing efficiency, only the third time since 1956 that a quarterback compiled an efficiency rating over 190. Russell Wilson had a 191.78 rating for Wisconsin in 2011. The other two? Mayfield in 2016 and this season.
“He’s been a lock for a few weeks,” said USA Today’s Dan Wolken. “Sure, there will be a few pearl clutchers who move him down their ballot or maybe don’t vote for him at all, but Baker Mayfield has far and away established himself as the guy this year.”
Mayfield’s behavior, at times, has raised eyebrows, if not the ire of opposing players, coaches and fans. He’s had feuds with TCU coach Gary Patterson, been reprimanded by the Big 12 for cursing out Kansas players from the sideline and had an ugly transfer from Texas Tech. But he’s also been the most exciting player in college football in 2017 and often looks as if he’s playing a game every other player on the field has just learned.
And, as much as he might be despised across the Big 12, he’s beloved by teammates and coaches in Norman, Okla. In fact, most are taken aback when asked about Mayfield’s behavior.
“I wouldn’t let many people date my daughter but he’s one that I would,” Oklahoma co-offensive coordinator Bill Bedenbaugh said. “I know what [the public] sees on the outside. He’s one of the best kids I’ve ever been around. He really is. I love being around him. He’s a confident kid. All that stuff rubs off on everybody else.”
Bedenbaugh credits Mayfield for instilling a sense of confidence throughout the Sooners’ program.
“A lot of it comes from Baker and his mentality throughout the week. Those things rub off on everybody on the team,” he said. “I’ve been fortunate in my career to be around a lot of good players. But I’ve never been around a player like him. There are a lot of really, really good players but a guy that has that charisma that everybody wants to be better for him, that makes everybody better.”
Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley was choked up when he announced Mayfield would not start or be a team captain in the Sooners’ home finale against West Virginia last week. Riley was forced to make the move after cameras caught Mayfield yelling obscenities and grabbing his crotch from the sideline toward Kansas players the week before.
“It’s not like this guy’s gone and done something every single game of his career and then all of a sudden against West Virginia he just went and changed and became the saint,” Riley said. “He had an isolated incident at Kansas. He learned from it, he handled it very well like I said and I think we’ve all moved on.”
But it wasn’t exactly an isolated incident. How about Mayfield pegging a TCU player with a pass during pregame warmups on Nov. 11? Or Mayfield planting the Oklahoma flag on the Buckeye logo after the Sooners beat Ohio State on Sept. 11? Mayfield has made nearly as many apologies as touchdown passes.
“The media kind of portrays him in a specific way but he’s just a very competitive guy and he has a lot of fire and that brings a lot of energy to our team,” Sooners tight end Grant Calcaterra said. “I think that’s what makes us such a special unit this year, his competitive edge.”
At heart, Mayfield could just be a fiery competitor. Whether he’s playing ping pong in the Sooners’ lounge, Calcaterra said, or on the football field. “It’s just in his DNA, he’s a competitive guy,” he said.
Mayfield has done a good job of softening his tone of late. For example, after beating West Virginia, he expressed nothing but respect for TCU coach Gary Patterson, who’ll he see again in Saturday’s Big 12 championship game at AT&T Stadium.
“He’s a lovable guy, he’s a great guy,” Sooners running back Rodney Anderson said. “He’s the same way on the field, too. He’s straight up in whatever he’s doing. He’s always honest. He’s a great leader. I can’t say anything better about him. He’s amazing.”
Other Heisman winners have carried far more serious controversy into Heisman week and still won.
“We’ve gone through this with Cam Newton and Jameis Winston for two very different issues that were both more potentially damaging to the integrity of college football,” Associated Press’ Ralph Russo said. “By comparison, Mayfield’s missteps are pretty trivial.”
Before he transferred to Auburn, Newton was charged with stealing a laptop when he was at Florida. Winston was accused of sexual assault at Florida State.
College football writer David Ubben thinks that a small segment of voters might alter their votes but it won’t amount to much and Mayfield will win in a landslide.
“Baker’s so-called ‘behavioral issues’ are pretty small. People don’t like him, but his teammates love him and he’s one of the most beloved players in Oklahoma history,” Ubben said. “That tells you a lot about a guy. Baker might not be a guy you want to be best friends with, but I have a hard time with anyone who wants to take something he’s done and use it as a reason not to vote for him. That’s silliness.”
No. 11 TCU vs. No. 3 Oklahoma
11:30 a.m. Saturday, KDFW/Ch. 4