ARLINGTON, Texas — Oklahoma had just beaten TCU 41-17, which means, of course, the Sooners are headed to the College Football Playoff and, of course, Baker Mayfield will win the Heisman Trophy, so it seemed like a good idea to ask Lincoln Riley if the Sooner quarterback has possibly been better this season than last.
Of course it’s possible, the Sooner coach said.
“You never get to perfection in this game,” Riley said. “We all chase it, but you never get there.”
It was a fine question and, indeed, the Just-How-Good-Is-Mayfield-Anyway-Sweepstakes are on.
He still has a national championship to try to go win, but the week ahead is all about Mayfield, winning the trophy he probably deserved last season, too, and living under a spotlight perhaps still brighter than the one that followed him after winning and grabbing and cursing in Lawrence, Kansas.
So here’s a new entry into those sweepstakes:
Let’s walk before we run.
Mayfield completed 15 of 23 passes for 243 yards and four touchdowns. Not that anybody’s watching his rushing stats, but he carried six times for 65, too.
TCU’s Kenny Hill completed 12 more passes, but who cares. It was Mayfield’s day and he has the data to prove it, raising his passing efficiency number from 203.3 to 203.8, both of which exceed the all-time NCAA single season record of 196.4, which just happened to be set last season by a quarterback named Baker Mayfield.
Yet that’s the easy stuff. That’s the numbers. You don’t even have to watch the game to get that stuff.
Saturday provided much more, though it did require watching.
Mark Andrews caught two touchdown passes and might have caught three had he grabbed the one on the Sooners’ first series Mayfield somehow dropped into an impossible window, yet that throw might not have been better than the amazing one delivered on third-and-2 from the 6-yard-line 3:45 before the half.
An easy catch, it hit Andrews in the hands and in stride. Yet, eventually, Andrews came to know just how amazing the throw really was.
You might remember that there were five Horned Frog defenders between Mayfield and Andrews when Mayfield threw the ball.
“He makes hard throws look easy. He fit that ball through multiple different defenders’ hands and bodies,” Andrews said. “I didn’t really realize it until I saw the replay how many things he was fitting [the ball] through.”
Remember that pass from Josh Heupel to Curtis Fagan against Nebraska in 2000? At the top of the ball’s flight it still wasn’t clear who was supposed to catch the ball and then Fagan ran right underneath it into the end zone.
This was similar. When Mayfield cocked his arm, it was anybody’s guess where it was going. Certainly not Andrews, there’s five Frogs right there.
Yet Mayfield knew.
Next, how about Marquise Brown’s 52-yard grab with 10:41 remaining in the third quarter, the one that put OU up 38-17, putting the game away?
Watch that one again.
Note how tightly Brown’s covered and then note where Mayfield throws it and then note what Brown had to do to go catch it.
Here’s Brown’s version of events.
“He saw how the defender was playing me and he knew that I wasn’t at my top speed yet, so he threw it so I could separate and go catch it,” he said.
Brown had his defender on his left shoulder and Mayfield threw it over his right ear.
Brown sped up, veered right, grabbed it and trotted into the end zone, mostly because Mayfield knew right where to put it.
“He reads things. He has helped my game tremendously,” Brown said. “The things he sees, he lets me know that he sees them. He makes everybody around him better.”
Also Saturday, of all the Sooner receivers not to catch a touchdown pass this season, Mykel Jones was one of them until Mayfield found him for what became a 55-yard score to open the third quarter.
That one, Mayfield just hit him — “Right in my hands,” Jones said, “it was a dart” — yet it wasn’t sixth-sense, matrix stuff like the ones to Andrews and Brown.
Still, on the subject of what sets Mayfield apart, Jones proved the right guy to ask.
“It’s just his edge,” he said. “The way he comes into those facilities every day, just ready to win and winning every day.
“It starts at practice, it starts with his leadership. We follow him and he’s going in the right direction.”
The numbers tell a story. The numbers say he’s the best. Yet they only tell part of the story. Your own eyes tell you he’s better what the numbers say and his teammates explain he’s even better than that.
He’s going to win the Heisman Trophy. He’s going to go down as the best Sooner quarterback of them all. It’s a career for the ages.
Yet, for all of that, pretty much, all you needed to fully get it was take in what he did Saturday against the Horned Frogs.
You had to watch.
You had to listen.
It was all right there.
Horning is sports editor for The Norman Transcript.