Life without Baker won't be easy for Sooners

OU quarterback Baker Mayfield runs with the ball during the Sooners' game against Georgia, Monday, Jan. 1, 2018, at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California.

Kyle Phillips / the Transcript

LOS ANGELES — How often does an era begin and end on the same day?

Never, probably, though it sort of happened Monday in Pasadena, at the Rose Bowl Game, played inside the Rose Bowl in Rose Bowl, California.

Sorry, just had a Mack Brown, circa 2005 moment.

Anyway, when does that happen?

Yes, Lincoln Riley’s era officially began last summer, when Bob Stoops resigned and he was elevated the same day. Nevertheless, years and years from now, folks will say the Riley era began with a classic overtime loss at the Rose Bowl, so just go with me on it, all right?

Additionally, the Baker Mayfield era really did end Monday and though it produced no national championship, it remains the greatest three-year quarterback run not only in Sooner history, but college football history.

In those three seasons, the Sooners will have finished fifth, fifth and likely third in the final Associated Press Top 25, will have gone to two College Football Playoffs, will have won three straight Big 12 championships and will have done it with a quarterback who finished fourth, third and first by a landslide in the Heisman voting, who set an NCAA record for passing efficiency one season only to break it the next, who closed his career 0.25 off Sam Bradford’s career efficiency mark, despite having to include a so-so true freshman season at Texas Tech.

Also, none of that includes his leadership, charisma and the worth-the-price-of-admission-ness of his mere presence.

So, today marks the end of that as well as the first day we can stand back and admire, perhaps with a squib of regret, the first season of the Riley era and what might become of it moving forward.

Lucky for us, the coach himself offered a head start during his postgame press conference Monday.

“It’s been a hell of a run, one we’ll be proud of for a long, long time and one, again, that’s going to continue to elevate this program to where we finish the deal here in the next few years,” he said.

You have to love the man’s confidence. You have to admire his belief. You must even allow the possibility he might be right based upon the recruiting pyrotechnics that have marked his era’s dawn alone.

But you must also doubt the fruition of his and the Sooner Nation’s dreams based upon one fact that ain’t going away, the fact that his era’s beginning coincides with Baker Mayfield’s ending.

There’s no way out of that one.

Next season will be interesting on many levels.

Though there’s bound to be a competition for the job, we’re going to see how Riley can bend his air-raid sensibilities around the athleticism of Kyler Murray. In very spot duty this season, Murray was electric and he didn’t come to Oklahoma to remain a backup.

Presumably we’re going to see if Mike Stoops’ defense can make the full transition from something less-than-good to something quite-a-bit-better-than-good. The fact a bunch of youngsters grabbed jobs this season would seem to be a great sign, though it’s not like we haven’t seen some great signs before.

Still, mostly, we’re going to see what life’s like without the artist known as Baker Mayfield.

Believe it, a season-long hangover could be in force.

Even those capable of emotional leadership in his wake will have to make themselves fill a void that hasn’t needed filling the last three seasons. And even if they seek to fill it, they’ll fill it differently and that could mean everybody else lagging to fall in line.

Or, maybe, Riley has it all figured out. Only he doesn’t because nobody ever has.

Thus, a season of watching ends and an off-season of wondering begins.

Fighting back his emotions Monday, Mayfield said, “I can’t believe it’s over.” He then uttered, “It’s been a wild ride,” as the questions were moved along, allowing him to regain his composure.

Yet, given his departure, the Sooners’ wild ride may just be beginning.

Life without him may not be nearly as fun.

Horning is sports editor of The Norman Transcript.

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