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.”