Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield said the reason he chose to return for his redshirt senior season was to win the national championship, not to win the Heisman Trophy.
Mayfield took a significant step toward winning both with Saturday's methodical 41-17 victory over TCU in the Big 12 Championship Game before a crowd of 64,104 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
The triumph advances the No. 3-ranked Sooners (12-1 overall) into the College Football Playoff for the second time in the last three seasons.
Their national semifinal opponent will be revealed Sunday at 11 a.m. and the game will be played Jan. 1 at either the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans or the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif.The College Football Playoff National Championship Game will be staged a week later on Jan. 8 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.
Next Saturday night in New York City, Mayfield is expected to be a landslide winner of this year's Heisman and become the sixth recipient in OU history, joining Billy Vessels (1952), Steve Owens (1969), Billy Sims (1978), Jason White (2003) and Sam Bradford (2008).
"I'm going to enjoy this next week. The good thing is I'll be getting to go with some teammates as well."
- Baker Mayfield
It will be Mayfield's second straight invitation to the Heisman ceremony. He finished fourth for the award in 2015, third last year and will become the fifth player to finish in the top four in voting for three straight seasons. The other four to have done it are Army's Glenn Davis and Doc Blanchard (both in 1944-46), SMU's Doak Walker (1947-49) and Georgia's Herschel Walker (1980-82).
"Obviously, I'm not going to downplay that," Mayfield said of potentially winning the Heisman. "That would be something very special. Getting to go (to the ceremony) is special enough. ... I'm going to enjoy this next week, traveling, going on the road for some of this stuff (various award ceremonies). The good thing is I'll be getting to go with some teammates as well."
Led every season by Mayfield, the Sooners have now won three straight Big 12 titles. They also improved their record to 8-1 in Big 12 title games with six straight victories and have won 11 conference crowns in the last 18 seasons. No other program has won more than two during that span.
Mayfield is putting finishing touches on what right now ranks as the highest FBS passing efficient rating in a career. If it happens, Mayfield will beat out Bradford for the top spot.
"Give him credit for all the success that he's had," OU first-year coach Lincoln Riley said of Mayfield. "He's stayed hungry and he's continued to be coachable and he's continued to want to improve, as has this entire team."
Against the Horned Frogs, Mayfield completed 15-of-23 passes for 243 yards, four touchdowns and zero interceptions, giving him 41 touchdown passes and just five interceptions on the season. He also added 65 yards rushing on just six carries (a 10.8-yard average).
"The most exciting thing about today was we controlled our own destiny," said Mayfield, who was selected as the game's Most Outstanding Player. "We just had to take care of our own business and all that's out in front of us."
Two of Mayfield's touchdown throws went to redshirt junior tight end Mark Andrews, a Mackey Award finalist who caught a team-high seven passes for 58 yards. Mayfield also connected with sophomore wide receiver Mykel Jones on a 55-yard score (the first of Jones' career) and with sophomore Marquise Brown on a 52-yard score (Brown's sixth of the year).
"I've got great players around me," Mayfield said. "We have all the pieces. Right now, we're playing well together and that's the most exciting thing. I came back (this season) to make sure we had strong leadership and that we would take care of our own business and right now we're doing just that."
"He's stayed hungry and he's continued to be coachable and he's continued to want to improve, as has this entire team."
- Lincoln Riley
For the second time in less than a month, the Sooners' offense shredded the Big 12's top-ranked defense.
In a 38-20 victory over the Horned Frogs three weeks earlier in Norman, OU jumped out to a 38-14 halftime lead with 395 total yards by intermission, then essentially sat on the lead the entire second half with just six pass attempts.
In Saturday's title match, the Sooners' offense rolled up 461 total yards — 243 passing, 218 rushing — while the defense pitched a second-half shutout, allowing just 95 total yards and four first downs after intermission.
OU's 41 points were the most against TCU this season, and the Horned Frogs' 17 points were their second fewest this season.
"I couldn't be more proud of our team," said Riley, who became only the fifth coach in FBS history with no previous head coaching experience at a four-year college to win at least 12 games in his debut season. "To beat a really, really good TCU team again was tough."
The Sooners have won eight straight games and 18 of their last 19.