Can Oklahoma contend in the Big 12 with Baker Mayfield as starting QB?
Oklahoma changed just about everything in its coaching staff this off-season, so why not change starting quarterbacks, too?
According to reports from the Tulsa World and The Oklahoman, Baker Mayfield will start for the Sooners this fall, replacing last year’s signal caller Trevor Knight. Mayfield transferred from Texas Tech to Oklahoma in January 2014 and sat out last season due to NCAA transfer rules.
The decision to switch to Mayfield makes sense for a revamped Oklahoma attack. Stoops brought in Lincoln Riley to run the offense, replacing coordinator Josh Heupel, who was fired shortly after the Sooners’ 40–6 loss to Clemson in the Russell Athletic Bowl. Riley brings to Norman his Air Raid attack, which he ran with great success at East Carolina with quarterback Shane Carden. Mayfield has experience running a similar system at Texas Tech under coach Kliff Kingsbury, making him the more experienced option, in some ways, despite entering just his second season at Oklahoma.
As a walk-on freshman with the Red Raiders in 2013, Mayfield showed some potential, completing 64.1% of his passes for 2,315 yards with 12 touchdowns and nine interceptions over eight games. Since arriving at Oklahoma, he has shined in the limited opportunities allowed to him. Mayfield was a perfect 9-of-9 passing in the Sooners’ ’14 spring game, racking up 125 passing yards and two scores. He completed 10 of his 13 attempts in the ’15 spring game for 176 yards with a touchdown. He did show some rust returning to the Air Raid offense, though, as he tossed two interceptions.
Still, Mayfield has apparently demonstrated to Stoops and Riley in fall camp that he’s the best option under center. He inherits an offense that should be able to keep pace with anyone else in the Big 12. Samaje Perine gives the Sooners an explosive option out of the backfield after rushing for 1,713 yards and setting the FBS single-game rushing record against Kansas as a true freshman last year. Oklahoma’s top four receivers also return, including preseason first-team All-Big 12 honoree Sterling Shepard. Riley’s offense is designed to distribute the ball to a variety of weapons, so the depth of returning options sets up Mayfield to thrive.
Whether this season is a success or failure for Oklahoma will be determined by if it factors into the Big 12 title race. The Sooners were actually not as far from contention last year as their 8–5 record might indicate, as they lost to conference co-champion TCU, Kansas State and Oklahoma State by a combined eight points.
But Knight was never able to consistently build on the tremendous promise he showed in dissecting Alabama in the 2014 Sugar Bowl. He completed just 56.6% of his passes last season with a 14-to-12 touchdown-to-interception ratio. Knight also left a dismal last impression entering the off-season, tossing three picks in the Sooners’ bowl loss.
Overall he was hardly dreadful, but average quarterback play won’t suffice in a conference now dominated by the potent attacks of TCU and Baylor. Oklahoma needs a spark, something Riley was brought in to inject. He now has to hope Mayfield is capable of carrying the charge.