As the Big 12 Conference ramps up its 25th football season, it’s a good time to look back through the league’s illustrious history and identify the best football players ever to suit up.
It was a daunting task to rank players from 14 schools over 24 seasons. Some schools, of course, didn’t participate in all 24 years.
Rather than select an all-time All-Big 12 team — we’ll endeavor to pull that off after the 25th season has concluded — publishers from SI affiliates who currently cover the Big 12 were asked to vote on their top 25 players.
Players were judged on both their college careers and their professional football exploits. National awards, championships and individual achievement were all considered.
In all, nearly 50 players received votes. Only 10 players were unanimous selections.
With that, the countdown has reached No. 5 — our fourth Sooner quarterback:
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Safe to say, no one has done more for college football walk-ons than Baker Mayfield.
Mayfield won two Burlsworth Trophies — one for each school he walked onto and won the starting quarterback job at — to go with his 2017 Heisman Trophy.
It will always be a story worth asking: how did this happen?
Mayfield admits he was a late bloomer out of Lake Travis High School in Austin, TX. He was short, skinny and probably unnecessarily cocky. But that self-assuredness served him well when he finally grew into the part.
Mayfield’s best scholarship offer out of high school was to Washington State. But rather than play for Mike Leach, he walked on at Leach’s old post at Texas Tech, became the first walk-on quarterback to win the starting job at an FBS school, then took home the Big 12’s Offensive Newcomer of the Year award.
Still, Kliff Kingsbury wouldn’t guarantee Mayfield a scholarship, so he traded Lubbock for Norman and, to Bob Stoops’ surprise, walked on at Oklahoma.
After sitting out as a transfer in 2014, Mayfield beat out Trevor Knight for the starting job in 2015 and launched an impossible fairy tale: three consecutive Big 12 championships, two College Football Playoff appearances, the 2017 Heisman Trophy and a wall of other awards.
Mayfield threw for 2,315 yards and 12 touchdowns as a true freshman at Tech, then passed for 3,700 yards and 36 TDs as a sophomore at OU. His junior year, he threw for 3,965 yards and 40 TDs, and as a senior he recorded 4,627 yards passing and 43 touchdowns.
That senior year only happened because OU and Mayfield appealed to the Big 12 for eligibility relief. A league rule says players transferring within the conference lose a year of eligibility, but does not stipulate non-scholarship athletes. At first, the Big 12 denied Mayfield’s appeal, but the next day, excepting his walk-on status, the league reversed its decision and let him play the 2017 season — which became historic.
In his college career, Mayfield threw for 14,607 yards, which ranks seventh all-time in NCAA history, to go with 131 touchdowns and just 30 interceptions. Mayfield also rushed for 1,083 yards and 21 touchdowns, making him the only player in NCAA history with 14,000 passing yards and 1,000 rushing yards.
Mayfield led the NCAA in passer efficiency rating and completion percentage in each of his final two seasons, leading the Cleveland Browns to pick him No. 1 overall in the 2018 NFL Draft.
Mayfield began the draft process as a late first or early second-round projection, but by the time teams interviewed him face-to-face, most were convinced he was a star waiting to happen.
That hasn’t quite happened yet, but it’s early.
As a rookie, Mayfield threw for 3,725 yards and 27 touchdowns with 14 interceptions and completed 64 percent of his passes as he led Cleveland out of the depths of winless despair to a 6-7 record as the starter — and nearly a spot in the NFL playoffs.
Mayfield’s 2019 season, however, was a setback. A new head coach, new offensive coordinator, rebuilt offensive line and Mayfield’s own inconsistency dropped the Browns to a 6-10 mark as Mayfield completed just 59 percent of his passes for 3,827 yards with 22 touchdowns and 21 interceptions.
- No. 6: Michael Crabtree
- No. 7: Darren Sproles
- No. 8: Derrick Johnson
- No. 9: Dat Nguyen
- No. 10: Roy Williams
- No. 11: Kyler Murray
- No. 12: Grant Wistrom
- No. 13: Von Miller
- No. 14 (tie): Justin Blackmon, Tommie Harris
- No. 16: Terence Newman
- No. 17: Jeremy Maclin
- No. 18-21 (tie): Sam Bradford, Ryan Broyles, CeeDee Lamb, DeMarco Murray
- No. 22-23 (tie): Rashaun Woods, Earl Thomas
- No. 24: Tavon Austin
- No. 25 (tie): Robert Griffin III, Patrick Mahomes & Jason White
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