STILLWATER, Okla. — The most difficult question Oklahoma defensive coordinator Mike Stoops faced after Saturday's electric, 62-52 win at Oklahoma State wasn't about his own maligned unit. It was about Baker Mayfield. Where did he fit in the pantheon of great Oklahoma quarterbacks?
The senior had just passed for a school-record 598 yards to go with five touchdowns in the win over the rival Cowboys to emerge as the front-runner in the Heisman Trophy race. Mayfield has Oklahoma primed for a potential run to the College Football Playoff: The fifth-ranked Sooners (8-1, 5-1 Big 12) will have to beat sixth-ranked TCU (8-1, 5-1) on Saturday, then possibly do it again in a potential Big 12 title-game rematch to keep that dream alive. This question, then, was raised to Stoops: Is Mayfield in the conversation as the best quarterback in Sooners history?
"I love all those guys. They're all great players, great competitors," Stoops began. But he didn't mention by name Josh Heupel, who led the Sooners to their most recent national championship victory in 2000, or Jason White, who won the Heisman Trophy in 2003. Nor did Stoops mention any of the players who came after — not 2010 NFL draft No. 1 pick Sam Bradford or Landry Jones, the program's career leader with 16,646 passing yards and 123 touchdown passes.
Instead, Stoops brought up Johnny Manziel.
"He's unique. I think anyone in here would say he's a very unique guy. Just with his charisma, what his leadership is, it's just he's one of kind. I've never seen a guy like him. I don't think it's right to compare him to Johnny Manziel," Stoops said, even though the comparison hadn't been made during the news conference.
Invoking the name of the polarizing former Texas A&M star didn't come out of nowhere. Like the 2012 Heisman winner, Mayfield plays with loose, scrambling abandon. Like the 2014 first-round pick of the Cleveland Browns who flamed out after two seasons in the NFL, Mayfield invited scrutiny for an alcohol-related incident; he pleaded guilty in June to three counts stemming from a February arrest in Fayetteville, Ark. And Mayfield's brash demeanor places him closer to Manziel than the strait-laced personalities of Heupel, White, Bradford and Jones.
Mayfield leads major college football in a slew of passing categories. He also leads the country in teams trolled. A few moments after September's 31-16 win at Ohio State, Mayfield planted an Oklahoma flag at midfield in Columbus. Two weeks later, before a 49-41 win over Baylor, he told Bears players during a pregame skirmish: "You forgot who Daddy is. I'm going to have to spank you today."
October brought its own set of moments. After a 29-24 win over Texas, Mayfield left the Cotton Bowl while wearing the game's trophy, the Golden Hat. Then, before he played against Texas Tech, the school he transferred from after his freshman year, he wore a T-shirt emblazoned with the word "Traitor" that students in Lubbock had made. He then went out and threw for 281 yards and four touchdowns in a 49-27 win.
Mayfield looked too tired to stir the pot Saturday after the 4½ -hour marathon against the Cowboys that improved his Oklahoma career road record to 13-0. But he still got a jab in, even if he didn't intended to: "Winning around here is expected. Winning against Oklahoma State is expected as well," he said.
Mayfield, who is 22-2 in Big 12 games with Oklahoma, is second to Jones on the program's career passing lists with 10,891 yards and 104 touchdowns (not including his 2,315 yards and 12 touchdowns as a freshman at Texas Tech). But only Heupel has won a national championship.
White noted that fact but added of Mayfield: "Although Baker's still playing and still has a chance to do that, even without one, he's obviously still up at the top. You can't doubt him. He's proven himself over and over," White told Sporting News earlier this month.
Mayfield's statistical baubles beyond that are seemingly endless. He has thrown a touchdown in a school-record 35 consecutive games. He's averaging 9.67 yards per career pass attempt, good for third in Football Bowl Subdivision history. He owns a 173.6 career passing efficiency rating; among FBS players who have finished their careers, only Bradford has a higher-mark (175.6).
In nine games this season, he has 3,226 passing yards with 28 touchdowns against just five interceptions. He ranks first in FBS in completion percentage (71.7), pass efficiency rating (201.6), passing yards per attempt (11.9), passing yards per completion (16.5) and pass plays of 20 yards or more (55).
At this rate, Mayfield also appears a safe bet to be the first player since Georgia great Herschel Walker in 1980-82 with three finishes among the top four Heisman vote-getters. Mayfield finished third last year and fourth in 2015.
But he was not moved by speculation about his Heisman chances.
"The most important thing to me is winning," he said this week. "The Heisman won't come if we don't win Saturday, if we don't win the next week after that, the next week after that. So I could care less unless we win Saturday."
That focus on winning also could set him apart from a less savory comparison to other OU greats — that, for all their stats, all but Heupel fell short in the biggest games. For now, Mayfield already stands alone among Sooners quarterbacks when it comes to his free-spirited play — and his ability to get under people's skin.
"I think Baker is his own person," Stoops said. "His creativity, his leadership, his dedication to what he does, it never stops."
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