Oklahoma’s quarterback battle was one of the biggest in college football this fall, but the intrigue is over in Norman. On Monday, the Sooners announced Baker Mayfield edged Trevor Knight and Cody Thomas for the starting spot for the Sept. 5 opener against Akron.
The decision to pick Mayfield as the starter is really no surprise. The Texas Tech transfer was considered the favorite since the spring and remained at the top of the depth chart over Knight and Thomas.
Mayfield has traveled an interesting path to Norman. The Texas native was a walk-on to Texas Tech in 2013 and started seven games for the Red Raiders. Mayfield threw for 2,315 yards and 12 scores during the regular season but decided to leave prior to the Holiday Bowl. Mayfield appealed for immediate eligibility with the Sooners in 2014. However, that appeal was unsuccessful, and Mayfield sat out 2014 as a result of transfer rules.
The play of the offense is under the microscope for Oklahoma this season. The Sooners averaged 36.4 points per game last year but ranked eighth in the Big 12 in passing and needed a new identity and direction.
Coach Bob Stoops decided to hit the reset button on offense, hiring rising star Lincoln Riley to call the plays. Riley plans on implementing an offense similar to the Air Raid approach he learned at Texas Tech under Mike Leach, as well as the one he coordinated at East Carolina from 2010-14.
Mayfield is well versed in this offense from his time at Texas Tech and in high school at Lake Travis. Having a grasp of this scheme certainly helped in this battle, and the junior possesses the confidence and playmaking ability to help Oklahoma make a quick transition to the new scheme.
Mayfield isn’t shy about taking chances with the ball, but he’s also accurate. The junior doesn’t necessarily have to connect on big plays every week, just be accurate and distribute the ball to the playmakers on the outside.
While Mayfield is likely the best fit among the Oklahoma quarterbacks for the new scheme, the strength of this offense still resides with its running backs. Samaje Perine, Alex Ross and Joe Mixon form one of the top backfields in the nation.
Choosing Mayfield as the starter should come as no surprise for the Sooners. But here’s the big question for Oklahoma: How much will the offense improve under Riley this year? With a loaded backfield and talent at receiver, there’s reason for optimism. However, there are four new starters on the line and a transition in schemes.
Is Mayfield the right player to lead this offense? Or will Thomas and Knight play their way into snaps? The Sept. 12 date at Tennessee should be a huge barometer test for Mayfield, Riley and Oklahoma’s new offense. For now, everything suggests Mayfield is the right (and easy) pick.