NORMAN — Longtime ABC/ESPN college football analyst Kirk Herbstreit visited the University of Oklahoma campus Wednesday for a feature on OU's Baker Mayfield, who is in the thick of a Heisman Trophy race for the third consecutive year.
Herbstreit spent 45 minutes with the senior quarterback, interviewing him at the team's new Switzer Center facility about a wide range of topics for a piece that will air Saturday morning during ESPN's College GameDay show.
After the interview, Herbstreit agreed to answer questions about Mayfield, who leads all Power Five quarterbacks and ranks second nationally in completion percentage (.725), passing efficiency rating (195.6) and yards per pass attempt (11.14). He's accounted for 27 touchdowns and just three turnovers while throwing for 2,628 yards and rushing for 190 more.
If Mayfield finishes in the top four of Heisman Trophy voting this year, he'll become just the fifth player — and first since Georgia's Herschel Walker (1980-82) — to accomplish the feat three times. No one else has done it since the late 1940s. Mayfield finished fourth in Heisman balloting in 2015 and third last year.
Q&A With Kirk Herbstreit
What's your assessment of Baker as he's winding down his college career?
"I've been doing this for so long and he reminds me of that guy who's been around the block and has experienced a lot of the good, and has also experienced enough of the bad that I think now he's more polished as a senior. He's been there and done that, and I think that keeps him a little bit more composed. I think it allows him to be a better leader because he sees things that affect the defense and he sees things that affect special teams; not just how they affect him and the offense. So I think he's more of a well-rounded, veteran player. In college football, having a guy like that is a huge, huge advantage because he's an extension of the coaching staff, essentially."
How do you rate Baker's skill set and what he does on the field?
"I love it. I love his competitive fire. I love how he plays with that chip on his shoulder. I love how the team responds to that edge that he plays with. He has that ability to improvise and create, and instead of scrambling to run, what makes it harder on defenses is his ability to break a defense down, scramble; the defense worries about him creating, and now here comes a receiver breaking free and he makes a heck of a throw. And I think he knows when to press and try to create, and when not to do too much. Sometimes guys think they have to do all this crazy stuff, and he hasn't. Maybe he did when he was young, but I think now he scrambles and creates with a purpose, and he's usually right. He usually makes big plays."
Has it been a while since you've seen a guy like that who couples his passing ability with his knack for escaping heavy pressure to extend and make a play?
"I think it's the combination of his spirit to never be denied and his physique. You know, people see him in a uniform and he's not a 6-4, 230-pound quarterback. But he's really sturdy. He's got a low center of gravity. They might get an arm on him, but he's hard to bring down because he's able to pull out of a lot of those arm tackles. The thing that he's really mastered is the ability to look downfield when you're in the middle of pulling out of an arm tackle by a 280-pound defensive end. Most guys are just looking to scramble and run for 10 yards. He has an ability to pull out of a big tackle while simultaneously looking 20 yards downfield at a wide receiver breaking free from a defensive back. That's the rare thing. Johnny Manziel had an ability to do that but it was in a different way. He was more elusive and twitchy; kind of quick. What I see from Baker is more about power and strength and determination. It goes back to his attitude that he plays with."
You've talked to him a few times before and had a chance to spend some time with him today. As a person and as a personality, what do you like about Baker?
"I think he's probably, currently, the most misunderstood college player in the country. I think a lot of people watch his fiery disposition on the field — the flag planting after Ohio State, the chippiness on the field he plays with, the shoving of a defensive player — and they maybe misconstrue him to be somebody he's not. If you talk to him one-on-one — and I've been around him for three years — I've got four sons and he's the kind of guy you hope your son grows up to be off the field. On the field, he's just one of those guys who's going to do whatever it takes to win. If he's on my team, I love that. If he's against you, you don't like him. He's just that guy. I have no issue at all with him. In fact, I encourage him to play with that chippy attitude he plays with. But as far as a guy and a person, he's just a wonderful guy and I think he's really matured and grown these last three years here in Norman."