It all started in Knoxville. Oklahoma trailed Tennessee 17-3 with less than nine minutes to play in Mayfield’s second start for the Sooners. Remember, Mayfield wasn’t a proven commodity at this point. There were still a lot of unknowns on OU’s offense. In fact, many Sooner fans took to Twitter during this game to suggest Mayfield should be benched. That was before he unleashed Sooner Magic on the Volunteers. Mayfield lead his team down the field twice in the last nine minutes of regulation and OU ended up winning the game in double-overtime.
This game was the beginning of something special at Oklahoma. The Sooners seemed down and out. It seemed like they were beat, but Mayfield refused to lose. 2015 would be the first playoff appearance, and the first of three consecutive Big 12 Championships for Oklahoma.
Mayfield is an unlikely superstar. Listed at 6-foot-1, he had only three offers as a three-star recruit coming out of Lake Travis High School in Texas: Rice, Florida Atlantic and New Mexico. Mayfield decided to go all-in on himself and walked on at Texas Tech, where he won the starting QB job as a freshman. He was the first true freshman walk-on quarterback in college football history to start the opening game of the season. Luckily for OU (and Mayfield), things didn’t work out in Lubbock. Kliff Kingsbury didn’t offer him a scholarship, and Mayfield decided he would transfer from Texas Tech. Oklahoma wasn’t the most obvious place to transfer. Trevor Knight had just beaten Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, and it looked like he would be leading the Oklahoma offense for the next couple years. Still, Mayfield took his chips and went all-in on himself a second time, walking on at Oklahoma.
Mayfield won the starting job and he and Oklahoma exceeded expectations in year one, which inevitably lead to high expectations for year two. Those expectations came undone early, with a surprising loss to Houston to open the season and a blowout loss to Ohio State two weeks later in Norman. OU sat at 1-2 before rattling off nine straight conference wins, averaging nearly 48 points per game in conference play. The Sooners went on to blow Auburn out in the Sugar Bowl.
Mayfield’s senior season would do far more to shape his legacy than anything that had happened prior. Everything that happened on and off the field combined to make Mayfield one of the most polarizing athletes on the planet, starting with an offseason arrest. Mayfield was arrested early on the morning of Feb. 25, in Fayetteville, Arkansas. He was charged with public intoxication, disorderly conduct, resisting arrest and fleeing. There were (predictably) many different reactions to Mayfield’s arrest. Some were disgusted that he represented the university in that way. Others pointed out that he’s just a young man who had a few too many drinks and made a bad decision. To Mayfield’s credit, he handled questions about his arrest gracefully, apologizing and putting all the blame on himself for making poor decisions.
After an offseason full of questions about replacing Dede Westbrook, Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon, it was finally Sept. 9th. Oklahoma was finally in the horseshoe ready to seek revenge against Ohio State.
Baker Mayfield was incredible in OU’s 31-16 win over the Buckeyes. He finished the game 27/35 (77.1%) for 386 yards and 3 TD’s, with no interceptions. Mayfield had gotten his revenge, and put Oklahoma in a great position to make another run to the College Football Playoff.
Still, the lead talking point in the days following OU’s win was the “flag plant.” Mayfield made a victory lap after the game, carrying the “OU” flag, before heading to midfield and slamming the flag in to the middle of the “O” logo. Most OU fans loved it, with just a few dissenting and saying it was uncalled for. Around the country, there was a lot of conversation about the flag plant and whether it crossed the line. It was a continuation of the polarization of Baker Mayfield, and it wouldn’t be the last.
The Sooners headed to Lawrence, Kansas, to face the mighty Jayhawks on Nov. 18. OU won easily (41-3), but again the story was about Mayfield and his antics. The crotch grab heard round the world resulted in another public apology, a stripping of Mayfield’s captainship for senior day and a one-series suspension. Some argued he shouldn’t have been suspended at all, while some argued he should’ve been suspended for the entire game. Mayfield was again the story of college football.
Mayfield dominated the headlines on the field even more than he did off the field, winning Oklahoma’s sixth Heisman Trophy. He threw for 4,627 yards with 43 TD’s and only 6 INT’s. He also broke his own 2016 record for passing efficiency rating in a single season.
It all culminated in a double-overtime loss to Georgia in the College Football Playoff semifinals. It was a painful way for Oklahoma’s season, and Mayfield’s career, to end.
That doesn’t mean Mayfield’s career will be remembered for the painful finish. Mayfield will be remembered for the excitement he brought to the program and the accomplishments he had during his time as a Sooner.
Mayfield will go down as one of the most polarizing players to ever wear a Sooners jersey.
From walking on to the Heisman Trophy, Mayfield said it best, “Can’t believe it’s over. It’s been a wild ride.”