NORMAN — Eleven weeks have passed since Baker Mayfield stood in Oklahoma’s makeshift interview room and swore an oath, of sorts.
After Ohio State handed Oklahoma its hat 45-24 back on Sept. 17, Mayfield all but guaranteed the Sooners would win their second consecutive Big 12 Conference championship.
“I’m going to work harder than anybody in this program,” the OU quarterback said then. “Work harder and do it harder than anybody Coach Stoops has ever seen. I’m going to push and we’re going to win a Big 12 title.”
At some point between mid-September and early December, Mayfield ordered himself a custom embroidered shirt that said, “SOONERS BACK TO BACK 2015 & 2016.”
On Saturday, after OU pounded Oklahoma State 38-20 before a rain-soaked Memorial Stadium crowd of 87,527 to win Bob Stoops’ 10th Big 12 crown, Mayfield wore his 2015 Big 12 championship ring and reminded everyone of what he said almost three months ago.
“I made a promise, over there, after the Ohio State loss that we were going to win the Big 12,” Mayfield said just a few feet away from where he made his post-Buckeyes commentary. “We were going to go on a run and I was going to push this program harder. I’ve kept that promise and I’m proud of the guys for helping me along the way. It feels good.”
Mayfield completed 13-of-19 passes for 288 yards and three touchdowns. He did it in a steady, chilly drizzle. He did it with his best receiver, Dede Westbrook, leaving with a concussion early in the second quarter. And he did it with his second-best receiver, Mark Andrews, limited by a lingering injury. And he did it on a day the OU running game was inexplicably shut down for the entire first half.
“That’s the best I’ve seen him play. Easily,” said offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley. “We didn’t throw it much. He threw it 19 times. I would say probably 18 of those were right on point. His decision-making was outstanding. He was great in scramble situations. He was, in those kinds of conditions, he was awesome.”
The end result was an impromptu celebration on a muddy field — Owen Field, the first time Stoops’ Sooners have hoisted a trophy on their own turf. Afterward, Stoops took the team into the space that will be their locker room when the new south end zone facility is finished in February.
“Even though it isn’t finished, I wanted the seniors to have a piece of it, a taste of it, what they’ve left behind,” Stoops said. “We had a nice celebration in the new locker room. Hopefully didn’t damage any walls that need redone.
“This group of guys, we’ve won back-to-back championships out of a trailer. Nobody’s ever bellyached about it or had a negative thing to say about it. Proud of our seniors and their leadership to go out this way.”
Stoops has celebrated 10 conference titles in his 18 seasons, but said this was one was “probably” his most gratifying.
“With all we’ve been through, no doubt,” he said. “It’s probably fair to say that.”
Stoops said the players’ on-field postgame celebration was “a big deal to the players through the week, that, ‘Hey, we’ve never had a chance to hoist a Big 12 championship trophy on our own field.’ Did we need any more motivation? I wouldn’t think so. But the players thought it was pretty cool to be able to do that here.”
And what did Stoops think?
“I like all of them,” he said. “I’ll take those ones back in Arrowhead (in Kansas City), too, when it was 2 degrees. That was pretty good, too.”
OU improved to 10-2 and went 9-0 in Big 12 play, while OSU fell to 9-3 and 7-2. OU didn’t just beat the rest of the Big 12 field, the Sooners lapped them by two games in the standings.
Stoops’ previous championship quarterbacks were Josh Heupel (2000), Nate Hybl (2002), Jason White (2004), Paul Thompson (2006), Sam Bradford (2007 and 2008) and Landry Jones (2010 and co-champs in 2012) — an impressive list. But Mayfield joined Bradford as Stoops’ only two-time outright Big 12 champion QBs because of his unshakable confidence and an unbending resolve.
For example, Westbrook caught four passes for 111 yards, including his usual 69-yard touchdown, but when he left with a concussion, Penn State transfer Geno Lewis stepped up with three catches, including two crucial third-down grabs. Jordan Smallwood and Jeffery Mead combined for three receptions and 62 yards. Unheralded, largely unproven targets making plays because their quarterback believes in them.
“That was a big part of the day,” Stoops said. “What it says about Baker, he’s just exceptional. I guarantee you those six incompletions are drops.”
Said Riley, “I’m maybe most proud of him that when Dede went out, he didn’t go try to do things on his own. He trusted the guys. The ball — I mean on every play — the ball was, as a coach, right where you want it. I mean, right where it’s supposed to go. So that tells you the guy was really bought in. His trust and belief in what we’re doing, his trust and belief in his teammates was critical. That was huge for us.”
Mayfield may have made a strong push Saturday for the Heisman Trophy (votes are due Monday at 4 p.m.). Quarterbacking the Big 12’s first undefeated team in round-robin play and leading the nation and setting a school record in passer efficiency rating (194.7) and completion percentage (.712) and ranking among college football’s leaders in passing yards (3,669) and touchdowns (38) and total offense might do the trick.
But with Mayfield, there might be even more.
“To me, the Heisman is about being a great player,” Riley said, “but it’s about what you bring to your team, too. There’s a lot of really good players out there, but that guy’s something special. What he’s been able to do with this team, the way he’s played the position the past 8-9 weeks, I mean, he’s playing at a level that not many people that have ever played this game play at. He’s awesome. I’m glad he’s here. They (Heisman voters) can do what they’re gonna do with it. It won’t change how we feel about him.”
Best of all, after getting back the year of eligibility the Big 12 took away from him for transferring from Texas Tech, Mayfield made another promise on Saturday: the NFL can wait.
“Yeah. I’m coming back and will be here another year for an opportunity for a three-peat (as Big 12 champs),” he said. “The ultimate goal, and why I came here, was to win a national title … I’m coming back. I’ve dreamed of playing at this place for too long. I fought for that extra year of eligibility for too long. I had everybody working on that. It’s not a feeling that I owe anybody that put the effort in. It’s just that we all did that for a certain reason.
“I’ve dreamed of playing here and another season under Coach Stoops would be another dream come true and a great opportunity for us to win another national title.”
Columnist John E. Hoover is co-host of “Further Review with Hoover & Rew” and can be heard on The Franchise Tulsa from noon to 3 p.m. every weekday with co-host Lauren Rew and most mornings on The Franchise in Oklahoma City. Listen on fm107.9, am1270 on the 107.7 Franchise app, or click the “Listen” tab on The Franchise home page.