Jake Trotter, ESPN Staff Writer 15d

Oklahoma in playoff hunt thanks to nation's best player, Baker Mayfield

STILLWATER, Okla. -- As he trudged off the field, Baker Mayfield barely had the energy left to clap for the smattering of Sooners fans in the northeast corner of Boone Pickens Stadium, much less plant another flag at midfield.

He had just passed for a school-record 598 yards and totaled six touchdowns, of which Oklahoma needed every one to escape against Oklahoma State with a 62-52 victory.

Had the Sooners had any other quarterback in college football Saturday, they surely would've lost one of the battiest Bedlams yet, an absurd back-and-forth air show trumping the rivalry's own Looney Tunes standards. Taking it further, the Sooners might have been defeated if they had any other quarterback from their own storied history at the position.

But on the road in Stillwater, Oklahoma had Baker Mayfield. Meaning it had the best player playing college football right now.

That is why Oklahoma heads into the backstretch of the season on the cusp of advancing to the College Football Playoff. It's why, if the Sooners get there, they'll be a dangerous foe for anyone they might play.

"We win ballgames, no matter how you put it," Mayfield said. "Right now, that's all that matters."

Make no mistake, Oklahoma has proved to be an incredibly flawed team.

That was on full display in Stillwater, where the Sooners surrendered 38 points in the first half alone to Oklahoma State, which bombed away at will against a hapless Oklahoma defense.

Defensive coordinator Mike Stoops cycled through every defensive back the Sooners shuttled to Stillwater, including a trio of true freshmen, mostly to little avail. Up front, Stoops would've done the same, but was left with few options because of injuries.

As a result, Mason Rudolph passed for 448 yards, Justice Hill rushed for 228 and the Cowboys unloaded 52 points.

Against Mayfield, that still wasn't enough.

"He doesn't blink," Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley said. "He doesn't flinch. He's made for atmospheres like this. This is his favorite thing in the world to play in deals like this, and it shows."

Oklahoma State tried everything in its defensive playbook to slow Mayfield down.

When the Cowboys sat back, he patiently shredded them. When they brought the house, he, well, shredded them worse.

According to ESPN Stats & Info, Mayfield completed 11 of 16 passes for 304 yards and four touchdowns on plays during which the Cowboys brought five or more rushers. That was the highest passing total by any Power 5 quarterback against the blitz in the past five seasons.

"If you're down the street in the park picking sides, he's your first pick," Oklahoma State defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer said before Bedlam. "He makes you look silly."

Some will likely attempt to brush off Mayfield's record-setting performance in Bedlam as a product of Big 12 defense, conveniently omitting the fact that he's also powered the Sooners to wins in SEC and Big Ten venues over his career, which is why Oklahoma owns a nation-best 15 consecutive wins in true road games. Oklahoma State had no answer for Mayfield. But then neither did Ohio State, Auburn or, when it still had a pulse, Tennessee.

"The guy has been playing at an elite level for a long time," Riley said. "So, whether people appreciate him, don't appreciate him, that's up to them."

Even though the Sooners opened the season with an entirely new contingent of skill players around Mayfield, save for tight end Mark Andrews and fullback Dimitri Flowers, Oklahoma leads the country with an offensive efficiency score of 96.5 (scale of 0-to-100).

That is the best total since ESPN began tracking the stat a dozen years ago. Better than Tim Tebow's '07 Gators, Sam Bradford's '08 Sooners, Cam Newton's '10 Tigers, Johnny Manziel's '12 Aggies, Jameis Winston's '13 Seminoles and Marcus Mariota's '14 Ducks. Those quarterbacks all led their offenses to a No. 1 efficiency ranking in seasons when they also captured the Heisman Trophy.

Who knows if Mayfield will win the Heisman next month. Good luck making the case for a player more deserving.

On a Saturday when Mayfield passed for more yards than any other FBS player this season, Saquon Barkley rushed for 63 yards, Bryce Love ran for 69 and Ohio State's J.T. Barrett tossed four interceptions.

Penn State, Stanford and Ohio State are all firmly out of the playoff picture. Because of Mayfield, Oklahoma remains.

"He's special, he's unique. ... He's one of a kind," Stoops said. "We're never out of the game, no what matter the situation is.

"I've never seen a guy like him."

When the playoff selection committee reconvenes this week, it will likely penalize Oklahoma for its defense, which is perfectly justifiable. Compared with other contenders like Alabama, Georgia, Notre Dame and Clemson, the Sooners don't stack up on that side of the ball.

Then again, none of those other contenders boasts an individual player who compares to Mayfield.

"What this guy does week in and week out," Riley said, "nobody does for their team."

Without Mayfield, Oklahoma might already be an afterthought in its own conference title race. With him, the Sooners are capable of defeating anyone. No matter who the Sooners might face moving forward, they'll at least know this -- they'll have the best player on the field.

"What more can you say?" Riley said. "The guy, he's awesome."

^ Back to Top ^