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    Brady Manek: The Sooners' other prize freshman

    BY JOHN ROHDE

    Special to SoonerSports.com

    Jan. 26, 2018

    Well into Big 12 play, Oklahoma point guard Trae Young and forward Brady Manek have proven they're one of the nation's most prolific freshman tandems. Trouble is, so far the duo has widely been portrayed as a one-man show.

    A pair of in-state recruits who excelled just 39 miles apart, Young was a 5-star gem out of Norman North while Manek was a 4-star prize from Harrah. Both wanted to have an immediate impact on the Sooners and such certainly has been the case.

    Young and Manek simultaneously arrived at a program that had followed its 2016 Final Four appearance with a demoralizing 11-20 record last season.

    Halfway through their 30-game schedule, the Sooners have risen from the ashes with a 15-4 record, own four victories over Top-10 opponents and are ranked No. 12 heading into Saturday's 1:15 p.m. contest against Alabama.

    With a combined scoring average of 41.6 points per game, Young (30.3) and Manek (11.3) comprise the highest-scoring freshman tandem in the country. They own a comfortable margin over the runner-up freshman duo of Duke's Marvin Bagley III (21.6) and Gary Trent Jr. (14.7).

    Only three freshmen in the country are averaging more than 20 points and Young owns a comfortable lead over Howard's RJ Cole (23.4) and Bagley.

    Young also leads the nation in assists at 9.6 per game. The next highest freshman is Murray State's Ja Morant with a 6.4 average.

    As he continues his assault on Division I all-time freshman scoring and assist records, Young understandably has been bombarded with interview requests. Meanwhile, quietly complementing the cause has been Manek, who is due some attention himself.

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    Oklahoma has Georgia on the mind

    Georgia senior running back Nick Chubb. (Photo by Sports Illustrated)
    BY JOHN ROHDE

    Special to SoonerSports.com

    Dec. 18 2017

    One mind-blowing moment in particular stood out to Oklahoma senior quarterback Baker Mayfield during his awards circuit earlier this month.

    It came when he met 1982 Heisman Trophy winner Herschel Walker at the Home Depot College Football Awards Show in Atlanta.

    "He looks like he could still play right now," Mayfield said of the 55-year-old Walker. "That's just impressive. You meet so many special guys, but a guy like that is a once-in-a-century type of athlete. That's pretty neat."

    Two nights later in New York City, Mayfield would win a Heisman of his own, becoming the sixth Sooner to capture college football's most prestigious award.

    Mayfield wasn't alone while gathering his impressive collection of hardware.

    Mayfield's first major national postseason honor arrived Dec. 6 when he was announced as AP Player of the Year. That same day, redshirt junior Mark Andrews became the first OU player to win the John Mackey Award as the nation's most outstanding tight end.

    The following night at the awards show in Atlanta, Mayfield was presented the Walter Camp Player of the Year Award and the Maxwell Award, both given to the nation's top player, and also won the Davey O' Brien Award as the nation's top quarterback. Prior to the show, Andrews was formally presented his John Mackey Award on The Red Carpet Special.

    Redshirt junior offensive tackle Orlando Brown, who was a finalist for the Outland Trophy as the nation's top interior lineman, accompanied Mayfield and Andrews in Atlanta.

    Mayfield, Andrews and Brown were named first-team All-Americans by the AFCA, Associated Press, Football Writers Association of America (FWAA), Sporting News and the Walter Camp Football Foundation, making them the 33rd, 34th and 35th Sooners to earn unanimous first-team All-America status. Redshirt senior linebacker Ogbonnia Okoronkwo joined them as a first-team All-American by the Walter Camp Foundation.

    At 4 p.m. CT on Jan. 1, the No. 2-seeded Sooners will face the No. 3-seeded Georgia Bulldogs at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., in the first national semifinal of this year's College Football Playoff. The winner will play for the national title at 7 p.m. on Jan. 8 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta against the Sugar Bowl semifinal winner between defending champion and No. 1 seed Clemson and No. 4 seed Alabama.

    Three of OU's premier players and first-year head coach Lincoln Riley were physically in Georgia the second week of December, but they weren't focused solely on Georgia. Coincidentally, Mayfield's awe-inspiring player played for Georgia.

    "That's OK," Mayfield said with a smile. "It's Herschel Walker. Luckily, I don't have to play him, so that's all right."

    Andrews joined Mayfield for the entire trip. "You've got to take everything in," Andrews said. "It's a once-in-a-lifetime experience getting to do all that, then getting to go to New York with Baker. It was a special moment and a special week... I was able to enjoy it, but obviously our end goal is to win the national championship and Georgia's in the way of that, so it was in the back of our mind."

    Asked if he was awed by anyone he saw on the awards tour, Andrews mentioned 1995 Heisman winner Eddie George of Ohio State. "He's a massive human being, especially being a running back," the 6-foot-5, 254-pound Andrews said of the 6-foot-3 George, who played at 235 pounds. "It's incredible. Just ridiculous how big he is."

    An exhausted OU travel party was ready to return home, just in time for final exams.

    "It felt good to be back, good to be back with my teammates," Mayfield said. "I wish all of them could have been up there with me to enjoy it. Getting back out there on the practice field was something I was itching to do. The first time we were around each other was on the practice field."

    Now the Bulldogs (12-1) are foremost in the thoughts of OU players, and with good reason. The Rose Bowl Game is a classic match-up between the nation's best offense and one of the best defenses.

    Georgia's defense ranks in the top 10 nationally in multiple categories, including No. 2 in passing yards allowed (158.3), No. 4 in total defense (270.9 yards) and scoring defense (13.2), tied for No. 4 in fourth-down conversion percentage defense (.250), No. 8 in team passing efficiency defense (108.07) and No. 10 in total first downs allowed (190).

    Mayfield: "They're the best defense, so you can't compare them to anybody. They're in a league of their own. You can't compare them to people because they're so talented and they play so well together. To say they're like somebody else would be downplaying how good they are."

    Brown: "I've actually watched a lot of film (of Georgia). They're great, man. They've got a great front seven. They've got a bunch of big names, a bunch of guys that are making consistent plays for them."

    Andrews: "They're going to be a fast and physical defense. They're going to fly around."

    Riley: "You turn on the film (and) you knew the guys who were going to be good. They have very few weaknesses as a football team, and that's why they're in this game."

    The Sooners counter with the nation's most explosive offense, which ranks No. 1 in total offense (583.3 yards) and team passing efficiency (206.90), No. 3 in passing offense (367.4) and total first downs (337), and No. 4 in scoring (44.9).

    Even though the game will be in California, facing the Bulldogs will be a homecoming of sorts for the 6-foot-8, 345-pound Brown. A huge, but raw, Brown essentially learned how to play football at Peachtree High School in Duluth, Ga., and took only one unofficial recruiting visit to Georgia when Mark Richt was the coach.

    "A lot of those guys in high school tore me up," Brown said. "I'm not the same player that I was then. I'm just ready."

    In addition to the awards circuit, Riley also has juggled recruiting and studying tape of the Bulldogs. "I enjoy balancing the different parts of it," Riley said of his hectic schedule. "You go to high schools during the day and visit some homes at night. When you get on the plane or in the hotel, you start watching film."

    Wednesday marks Division I's first early signing period, which previously was reserved for the first Wednesday each February. "This is going to become in a lot of ways the new national signing day," Riley said. "I think the one in February will kind of become secondary a little bit. And I think it will be more and more as the years go on."

    Riley said he expects OU's 2018 commitments to sign on that day. "We think if guys are committed then they do need to sign," Riley said. "Our guys, this group, have been great. We've had very little resistance. A lot of guys are excited about getting it done... It was good to go out and see those recruits. It's gone really well. I feel a lot of momentum with the program right now and I think you can sense that, getting out on the road and getting into these homes and these high schools. A lot of people are excited about Oklahoma right now."

    OU will depart for Pasadena on Dec. 26.

    Asked if he has had that "sink-in moment" yet, Mayfield immediately answered, "No, and I think that's a good thing for me knowing our goals are still in front of us. That's the thing that I've been able to do is never have that moment of where I'm like, 'Oh, I've made it.' That's good for us as a team moving forward."

    For Mayfield and the Sooners, there's still one more trophy to win.

    "I haven't won the biggest prize yet," Mayfield said. "The biggest prize is (winning the national title game) in Atlanta. I've always been a team guy and that's right there in front of us."

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    Streaking Sooners shock the Shockers

    BY JOHN ROHDE

    Special to SoonerSports.com

    Dec. 17, 2017

    Amazingly enough, Saturday’s 91-83 victory over No. 3 Wichita State is the highest-ranked non-conference team Oklahoma has ever beaten on the road in men’s basketball.

    Paired with their 85-83 victory over No. 25 USC at Staples Center eight days earlier, it also marked the Sooners’ second straight “road” victory over a ranked opponent (the USC game was technically neutral site, despite being played two miles from the Trojans’ campus).

    How did the victors celebrate their shocking triumph over the Shockers? By renting a movie from Redbox for the bus ride back to Norman.

    From the sound of things, it was a pretty mellow 177-mile trek back to Norman. The team maintained its composure, just as it did in front of a crazed gathering of 15,004 fans at INTRUST Bank Arena, an off-campus arena in downtown Wichita.

    Once again, OU was led by true freshman point guard Trae Young, who was joined by fellow true freshman forward Brady Manek. The prize rookies combined for 50 points (37 in the first half) and nine 3-pointers.

    A five-star recruit out of Norman North High School, Young is the nation’s leading scorer (28.8) and ranks third nationally in assists (8.9). He finished with 29 points and 10 assists and has now scored at least 28 points in seven straight games. Young erupted for 16 points on 6-of-9 shooting in the first nine minutes of the contest.

    Saturday was simply more of the same from the 19-year-old Young, the early frontrunner for national freshman of the year and potentially player of the year.

    “Statistically, it’s really off the charts, given what anybody else has ever done – especially through their first nine games,” Sooners head coach Lon Kruger said of Young. “I think he’ll keep getting better, though, making better decisions and even better plays. It’s hard to say whether he’ll improve on the numbers. He’s just done a remarkable job given how many times he has the ball in his hands. … The biggest thing is he lets everyone else do what they’re most comfortable doing.”

    Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall heaped praise on Young. “I haven’t coached against a freshman that plays the game at that level,” Marshall said afterward. “Hedging, switching. We tried everything against him. Trae Young is not going to get rattled. He is too good.”

    Young’s continued excellence comes as no surprise to teammates.

    “It took me a couple of games, but I realize I’m witnessing one of the greatest Oklahoma basketball players of all-time (in Young),” said OU sophomore guard Kameron McGusty, who poured in 13 points and three 3-pointers in just 16 minutes Saturday. “The way he shoots it, the way he gets to the cup, the way he passes it and blows by everybody, it’s just crazy. He’s going to go down as a legend here. It’s a blessing to play with him and to witness it with my own two eyes.”

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    Mayfield and the Sooners aren't done yet

    BY JOHN ROHDE

    Special to SoonerSports.com

    Dec. 2, 2017

    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).

    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."

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    Freshman Trae Young off to an historic start

    BY JOHN ROHDE

    Special to SoonerSports.com

    Nov. 28, 2017

    During the first week of practice in early October, Oklahoma men’s basketball coach Lon Kruger admitted his team would lean heavily on true freshman point guard Trae Young.

    “He’s going to be the center of a lot of what’s going on,” Kruger said at the time. “He’s good with the ball, he keeps pressure on the defense all the time and he likes distributing the ball. He’s got a good feel for the game. Add all that together, he’s a guy who make others around him better.”

    The 6-2, 180-pound Young welcomed the responsibility.

    “No, I don’t mind at all,” Young said. “I’ve always grown up being the leader on my team. I think that’s definitely put me in a position to be ready for moments like this, being able to come in right away and be leaned on a little bit more than a lot of freshmen.”

    Young certainly was ready for the moment on Sunday morning against Oregon at the PK80 Invitational at Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Portland, Ore.

    The most heralded recruit in Kruger’s seven seasons at OU, Young erupted for 43 points – 30 in the second half – as the Sooners posted a 90-80 victory in a contest played roughly 112 miles north of the Oregon campus.

    OU indeed leaned heavily on its prize rookie.

    “We wore him out today, that’s for sure,” Kruger said with a chuckle Sunday night as his team was about to fly back to Oklahoma.

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    Goodbye Baker; hello Kyler

    BY JOHN ROHDE

    Special to SoonerSports.com

    Nov. 25, 2017

    Oklahoma's home finale on Saturday gave its fans a unique opportunity to say goodbye to maybe the program's greatest quarterback ever while also getting a sneak peek at the future.

    Quarterback Baker Mayfield's final appearance at Gaylord Family - Oklahoma Memorial Stadium resulted in a 59-31 domination of West Virginia and kept alive the Sooners' hopes for a College Football Playoff berth.

    An already emotional setting intensified when Mayfield was removed from the starting lineup and stripped of his captaincy by head coach Lincoln Riley as punishment for making gestures and remarks during last week's game at Kansas.

    It was the first time in his three-year career at OU that Mayfield did not start. In his stead, redshirt sophomore Kyler Murray was given the reins for the opening drive.

    On the first play from scrimmage, the speedy Murray gutted the middle of the Mountaineers' defense and sprinted for a 66-yard gain to the WVU 4-yard line. The sellout crowd of 86,117 erupted and the Sooners literally were off and running — even with their beloved Heisman hopeful on the sideline.

    Mayfield being Mayfield, he playfully gave Murray grief for getting caught by a defender. "He got caught from behind," said a smiling Mayfield. "That's something I would not have guessed." (Murray, who is one of the fastest players on the roster, countered that the defender had the angle.)

    Riley said he had predetermined Mayfield would be inserted on OU's second possession, no matter what transpired on the opening drive. "I said, 'Hey, I'm going to make a decision. I'm going to stick with it no matter what happens,'" Riley said. "That first series went a little bit quicker than I thought (70 yards in just two plays), but I wasn't complaining."

    Murray said, "I knew going into the game I only had one drive, so I was going to try and make the most of it."

    Even with all the emotion of being disciplined and playing his final home game, Mayfield calmly completed 14-of-17 passes for 281 yards, three touchdowns and an astronomical quarterback rating of 279.4, strengthening his grip toward becoming OU's sixth Heisman Trophy winner.

    Mayfield has thrown a touchdown pass in a Big 12-record 38 consecutive games (every contest of his OU career) and also holds the Big 12 record with 25 consecutive games of at least two TD passes (77 TDs to 13 interceptions during the stretch). That is believed to be the second-longest streak in FBS history (Boise State's Kellen Moore had a streak of 26 games in 2010 and 2011).

    The Sooners scored touchdowns on all six possessions Mayfield played before he was pulled with 3:10 remaining in the third quarter and the Sooners leading 52-24.

    Mayfield left to a thunderous ovation and was replaced by Murray, who finished with 80 yards rushing on just three carries (26.7-yard average) while also completing 2-of-2 passes for 52 yards and one touchdown. "Having the support of them, it's pretty special to me knowing how loud they got," Mayfield said of OU's fans.

    After completing an ESPN postgame interview on the field, Mayfield trotted along the front row of the entire stands, slapping hands with fans leaning over the wall. "I try to give back, as much as they support me," Mayfield explained of his stadium exit. "It's not equal, but I try to do as much as I can after everything they supported me through."

    The OU offense rolled up 646 total yards in just 54 plays, setting a school record of 12.0 yards per play. The Sooners' balanced attack amassed 333 yards passing and 313 rushing, marking just the sixth time since 1996 they have surpassed 300 yards in both categories.

    Mayfield and Murray took similar paths to OU. Both started some games as true freshmen — Mayfield at Texas Tech and Murray at Texas A&M — before transferring to OU, and both were required to sit the first season after switching schools.

    "I can relate to Kyler, where he's at right now mentally," Mayfield said.

    Including Mayfield, Saturday was the home finale for 18 seniors. "Our guys were very emotional coming into this game, for a lot of reasons," Riley said.

    Oklahoma is the only program West Virginia has not defeated since joining the Big 12 prior to the 2012 season. The Sooners are 6-0 against the Mountaineers during that span and have scored at least 44 points in five of those contests.

    OU (11-1, 8-1 Big 12) will play in its ninth Big 12 Championship Game next Saturday, facing TCU (10-2, 7-2) at 11:30 a.m. at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. The Sooners are 7-1 in the Big 12 title game, which hasn't been held since the 2010 season.

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