Baker Mayfield: The face of the Big 12

Apr 9, 2016; Norman, OK, USA; Oklahoma Sooners quarterback Baker Mayfield (6) passes the ball during the first half of the spring game at Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 9, 2016; Norman, OK, USA; Oklahoma Sooners quarterback Baker Mayfield (6) passes the ball during the first half of the spring game at Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports /

Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield is ready to lead the Sooners back to prominence

Sometimes the journey for a big-time college football player can be easy. You sign with a particular institution in February of your high-school senior year and see your career through with them — be it until you’re NFL ready or until you earn your degree. This isn’t always the case, of course. With so much competition for so few positions, players often have to call the proverbial audible and transfer schools, because in their heart of hearts they believe it’s in their long-term best interest.

Oklahoma Sooners quarterback Baker Mayfield was one young man who had to make that conscious decision, and boy, has it ever paid off. So much so, in fact, that Mayfield is more or less now the face of one of the most lucrative conferences in college football.

Coming out of Lake Travis High School in Austin, Texas in 2013, Mayfield was one of the more sought-after quarterback prospects in the country. With his skill set Mayfield brought to the table, the Texas Tech Red Raiders seemed like a perfect fit for the versatile athlete. That did not end up being the case, however, as the youngster would elect to transfer to Oklahoma following that freshman year in 2013  — a huge risk that would end up paying even bigger dividends.

To be sure, having to sit out for a season — the longstanding rule for when a player transfers from one FBS program to another as an undergraduate — is frowned upon by a lot of people. But in the case of Mayfield, running the scout team for a year with a prestigious program like the Oklahoma Sooners was a blessing in disguise, setting up to eventually set the college football world alight.

“I was really paying attention to all the details,” Mayfield told the Tulsa World. “I think, in the best way possible, that may have been the best thing for me, to play and then sit out another year. “It helped me not only develop the physical part — making mistakes and learning from them — but watching from the sideline and seeing how people react and the whole program and that aspect of it. That helped me develop.”

Now there’s the side of it that some people don’t really see, huh?

What ends up happening? In the off-chance the 2015 college football season is now a distant memory for you, Mayfield was a player uniquely prepared to take his team to new heights. But no one could’ve predicted just how high that ceiling would be.

Last season, the once highly-touted high school prospect proved his worth, passing for 3,700 yards with 36 touchdowns and just seven interceptions. Aside from a head-scratching slip-up in the Cotton Bowl against the Texas Longhorns, Oklahoma had one of their best seasons in recent memory, ending in a Big 12 title and College Football Playoff berth, where they would, unfortunately, suffer their second defeat of the season against No. 1 Clemson. National Championship hopes were dead, but there was still a reason to smile for Bob Stoops and Oklahoma: Here, finally, was a college football mega star with the talent, tools, and tenacity to deliver the Sooners a national title.

It’s amazing to think about, really. Just a few years prior, Mayfield’s inter-conference transfer had been little more than a blip on the bottom of the SportsCenter screen. Now, he’s the bona fide face of the Big 12 conference.

When all’s said and done, 2016 really could be the year of Baker Mayfield. After last season, he has that taste in his mouth and he knows that he has what it takes to bring Oklahoma Football a national championship, by far the most coveted sports prize in the state. All things considered, the sting of losing Kevin Durant will just disappear if Mayfield and the Sooners are hoisting up that College Football Playoff trophy in Tampa come January.

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Oklahoma is one of the favorites this season to make it back to the College Football Playoff, and while some may think that’s a lot of pressure on Stoops and his staff, that’s not entirely accurate. Despite what happened last season, they know they have one of the best quarterbacks in the country leading the charge — one who’s not afraid of the field of battle; he’s been there, and he’s dealt with the worst. If they make it back to the promised land, he won’t want to be reminded of what happened against Clemson last season.

I mean, does this look like someone who would get rattled easily?

Furthermore, winning a national title for Oklahoma would deflect a lot of angst from the Big 12, which has taken its fair share of criticism for their 10-team format and lack of a conference title game. But Mayfield leading the Sooners to the top of the country would silence a lot of doubters, which is an act that he’s gotten quite used to since he decided to leave Lubbock for Norman.

Oklahoma may be legitimately the only title favorite from the Big 12 this year, and they a one-time forgotten transfer to thank for it.