In November 1991, Michigan wide receiver and return specialist Desmond Howard struck his famous Heisman pose after scoring on a punt return in the season finale against Ohio State. The touchdown and celebration were part of an impressive 31-3 victory over an archrival and nationally ranked opponent, which also helped keep the No. 4 Wolverines in the hunt for a national title. Simply, it was the epitome of a “Heisman Moment.” Howard, an electric playmaker with a big personality, announced to the world he was deserving of college football’s most prestigious award, and the voters confirmed this by awarding him the trophy shortly thereafter.
Though we’ve looked for them since Howard’s pose, we never know when a player will have a defining Heisman Moment. Nevertheless, exciting and memorable players who shine in the spotlight in big games, especially in November, are capable of cementing their place in the history books before officially hoisting the trophy.
Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield is such a player. Mayfield — known for his exciting, schoolyard style of play as well as his dance moves — put together a terrific overall performance last week against No. 11 Oklahoma State. The senior completed 66.7 percent of his passes for a school-record 598 yards and five touchdowns against the Cowboys and also ran for a score. Most importantly, he led the Sooners to a 62-52 victory in the annual Bedlam game.
Added to his impressive statistics gathered over the first 10 weeks of the season, which includes an FBS best 71.7 percent completion rate, 201.6 passer rating and 11.5 yards per pass attempt, the performance helped Mayfield close the gap on fellow candidates Saquon Barkley, J.T. Barrett and Bryce Love. In fact, early Monday, most Las Vegas sports books officially named Mayfield the Heisman favorite.
Mayfield already has a solid Heisman resume. He ranks second nationally with 3,226 passing yards, and he has a solid 28:5 touchdown-to-interception ratio. The rushing TD against Oklahoma State was his fifth of the season. Furthermore, Mayfield hasn’t padded his stats against weak non-conference competition — he leads the nation with an average of 363.3 passing yards per game in conference play. He also orchestrated an early-season victory over Ohio State, on the road, in one of the premiere non-conference matchups of the season. And, though the Heisman Trophy is a single-season honor, the fact Mayfield finished fourth in the voting in 2015 and sixth last season also might help his chances.
Admittedly, Mayfield’s performance Saturday was less than perfect. The Sooners' signal-caller tossed two interceptions, including one in the end zone to end a would-be scoring drive in the fourth quarter. It was the fourth straight game in which Mayfield has been intercepted. Also, the win over Ohio State — which led to Mayfield attempting to plant an OU flag at midfield in Ohio Stadium — has lost some of its luster after the Buckeyes were blown out by Iowa over the weekend.
Nevertheless, Oklahoma is still alive in the Big 12 championship race and is in the hunt for a spot in the College Football Playoff. Barkley, Love and Barrett are seemingly out of the playoff race as their teams have at least two losses already. Now 8-1 overall and 5-1 in conference play (with the only blemish a loss to Iowa State that is now much more acceptable than it first appeared), the Sooners host a top-10 ranked TCU squad Saturday in what could be a perfect stage for Mayfield’s Heisman Moment.
The Horned Frogs, also 8-1 overall and 5-1 in league play after a loss to the Cyclones, have the best defense in the Big 12, statistically speaking. TCU has allowed just 284.1 total yards per game and 4.4 yards per play this season, both of which lead the league by a wide margin and rank in the top 10 nationally. Gary Patterson’s squad has held opponents to 214.4 passing yards per game and 6.7 yards per pass attempt this season, both of which also lead the conference. The Horned Frogs have yet to allow 400 yards through the air in a single game, which is no small feat in the Big 12.
Given TCU’s lofty ranking in the polls, as well as the defensive leaderboard, Mayfield has an opportunity to shine under the bright lights in his home stadium once again. Leading his team to victory over TCU would keep the Sooners in the hunt for conference and national titles, and another great individual performance like the one he put together against Oklahoma State would keep Mayfield atop the Heisman leaderboard. But if he can put together an elite performance in a dramatic fashion — perhaps a Heisman Moment to make a unique impression on voters in the process — Mayfield could seal the deal.
— Written by Nicholas Ian Allen, a member of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @NicholasIAllen.