Baker Mayfield’s rise from college walk-on to record-breaking passer now includes the most coveted individual award in college football: the Heisman Trophy.
The brash, occasionally controversial Oklahoma quarterback was announced as the winner of the 83rd Heisman on Saturday night, well ahead of fellow finalists Bryce Love of Stanford and Louisville’s Lamar Jackson, who won the award last year. Mayfield collected 78.8 percent of the first-place votes. He accumulated 2,398 total points. Love finished second in voting with 1,300 points. Jackson finished with 793 and Penn State’s Saquon Barkley and SDSU’s Rashaad Penny rounded out the top five with 304 and 175, respectively.
Mayfield is the sixth Oklahoma player to win the Heisman, tying the school with USC for third-most in college history. Notre Dame and Ohio State have won the most Heismans, with seven each. The Sooners’ first three Heisman winners were all running backs (Billy Vessels, Steve Owens and Billy Sims) but the last three, all this century, have been quarterbacks (Jason White, Sam Bradford and now Mayfield).
Mayfield’s Heisman win capped a storybook college career that began without a single scholarship offer from a Big 12 school, despite the undersized Texan’s productive career at Austin Lake Travis High School. Offers from the likes of New Mexico, Rice and Florida Atlantic didn’t interest Mayfield, so he walked on at Texas Tech and quickly shot to the top of the depth chart.
Mayfield is believed to be the first walk-on quarterback to start the season opener at a Power Five conference school as a true freshman. But when the Red Raiders still didn’t put Mayfield on scholarship after the first season, he transferred to Oklahoma — and after sitting out a season, his career took off.
Mayfield threw for 3,700 yards and 36 touchdowns as a sophomore, leading the Sooners to the College Football Playoff. He improved his production last year as a junior, passing for 3,965 yards and 40 TDs and setting the FBS national record for single-season pass efficiency with a rating of 196.4 — a body of work that made him a 2016 Heisman finalist. Then he tore the top off those numbers as a senior, with 4,340 passing yards, 41 touchdowns and an efficiency rating of 203.8 — nearly 20 points higher than the second-best in FBS.
Along the way this year, Mayfield has led the Sooners to a 12-1 record, another Big 12 championship and another playoff berth. Oklahoma will play Georgia in the Rose Bowl semifinal Jan. 1.
But there has been some backlash to Mayfield this past season, after a string of incidents produced a corresponding string of apologies.
In June he pleaded guilty to public intoxication, disorderly conduct and fleeing police. Video from that February run-in with cops in Fayetteville, Arkansas, which showed Mayfield running away from officers and subsequently being tackled, went viral.
After Oklahoma’s statement victory at Ohio State on Sept. 9, Mayfield snatched an Oklahoma flag and circled the field at Ohio Stadium before planting it at midfield, angering the home crowd. That was a non-controversy to everyone but Ohio State fans, but Mayfield apologized anyway.
And last month, in a rout of woeful Kansas that featured at least one cheap shot on Mayfield by a Jayhawk, the quarterback grabbed his crotch multiple times and shouted obscenities across the field at the opposition. Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley stripped Mayfield of his captaincy and benched him for the first possession of the Sooners’ next game.
In the minds of Heisman voters, none of that overshadowed Mayfield’s on-field accomplishments. He is hardly the first controversial winner, following the recent footsteps of quarterbacks Cam Newton, Johnny Manziel and Jameis Winston.
The greater issue will be gauging the NFL’s interest in a quarterback generously listed as 6-foot-1. Doubts about his pro potential are a big reason why Mayfield spent five years in college, and those doubts will follow him into 2018. Mayfield will have to hope his passing accuracy, command of an offense, mobility and competitiveness outweigh concerns about his size and off-field issues.
But for now, a former walk-on has cemented his place alongside the greats in college football lore. Baker Mayfield proved he belongs, and now he has a coveted trophy to show for it.