College

Why Baker Could Win the Heisman in 2017

Why Baker Could Win the Heisman in 2017

It’s a difficult thing for Sooner fans to reckon with, but the Baker Mayfield era at Oklahoma is near its end. He’s got one more year to add on to his already stellar legacy.

And what would add to his legacy better than the highest individual honor college football has to offer?

Last season, Mayfield broke Russell Wilson’s record for passing efficiency, won the Big 12 title for the second straight time, and led the Sooners to an impressive Sugar Bowl victory over Auburn. If the Sooners had helmet stickers, Mayfield’s would be covered twice over by now.

Baker also traveled to New York as a Heisman Trophy finalist last season. He had little chance to win it over Lamar Jackson (whose numbers on the season were out of this world) and Deshaun Watson (practically a household name at that point).

Mayfield finished third in voting, far behind Jackson and Watson. This year, his eyes are presumably set on taking the Heisman trophy back to Norman with him.

A lot has been made of Mayfield’s off-the-field transgression in the offseason. While I do believe the committee will take Mayfield’s arrest under consideration, I have a hard time believing it will be a significant part of their deliberation. From the nature of the crime (bone-headed college drunken mistake) to the way he’s owned it — I highly doubt his screwup will weigh large in the minds of voters.

Here are a few reasons why Mayfield is my early favorite to win the Heisman:

 

Slimmer Competition

Voter fatigue is real. It’s the reason why it’s so rare for Heisman winners to repeat. Jackson wowed voters early on last season with his impressive numbers and was able to hold on the award despite a late season slide by the Louisville Cardinals. That doesn’t mean he lacked his critics, though. Unless Louisville goes undefeated and Jackson’s numbers are as high or higher (quite unlikely) than last season, Jackson won’t win the award.

Deshaun Watson capped off his college career with a championship. Now, he’s playing on Sundays. Don’t have to worry about him anymore.

Last season, Baker Mayfield’s own Heisman campaign was undermined by his teammate, DeDe Westbrook. The votes Mayfield likely split with Westbrook will probably go to him.

Simply put: this is a smaller race, and Mayfield gets a head start because he’s been there. Darnold is the trendy pick. For my money, I’ll take experience every time.

USC quarterback Sam Darnold has generated some buzz on the heels of his incredible freshman season, but he’s got a lot yet to prove. As I see it, it’ll be a two-man race between the two.

 

The Baker Mayfield Show

Oklahoma’s offense was fearsome last season. Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine splitting snaps is enough to keep a defensive coordinator up at night — and that’s not even factoring in the awesome speed of DeDe Westbrook. Even though Mayfield held the reigns of the offense, he became a victim of his teammates’ success when it came to individual awards.

Not this season.

In order to have a Heisman-type season, Mayfield will need to find a Westbrook replacement, a go-to receiver — and that’s no small thing. I’m confident in him doing so, and I’m confident that whomever it is won’t overshadow Mayfield.

The Sooners’ chances this season ride or die with Baker Mayfield’s success (or failure.) Provided that the Sooners are successful this season, the voters should realize that Mayfield did more with less than he had last year.

Mayfield will probably have to post equivalent numbers from last season (3,965 yards, 40 touchdowns, eight interceptions) to have a case to win the Heisman. I see no issue in him being able to attain them. If he does reach that mark again, it will be a travesty to deny him the honor.

 

Set up for Success

Even if the Sooners lose in Columbus against Ohio State — and assuming otherwise is wishful thinking, in my opinion — they’re still primed to make it to the College Football Playoff. With the exception of tough away games against Oklahoma State and Kansas State, the Sooners will likely steamroll their way through the Big 12. If the Sooners finish with fewer than three losses (championship game included), the Heisman is Baker’s.

As Lamar Jackson proved last year, you can have as many as four losses and still win — even if your conference is lackluster.

Don’t get me wrong: sustained success is still a requisite for winning the award. It’s the second most important attribute of a Heisman winner after individual achievement. It just doesn’t seem as important as it used to. Statistical achievement and narrative is easier to grasp for Heisman voters, and Mayfield should have an edge there over just about anybody.

Outside of USC and Sam Darnold, the Sooners are ranked higher in most way-too-early Top 25 lists. If Baker Mayfield and crew can run through the Big 12 — and especially if he plays well in the Big 12 championship game — the Heisman is his.

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