It’s never easy to replace a legend, and Baker Mayfield just finished one of the most legendary careers in college football history. The Heisman Trophy winner walked on at Oklahoma after transferring from Texas Tech, and left after throwing for 12,292 yards and 119 touchdowns with the Sooners.
Mayfield also set a school record in completion percentage (69.8) and passing efficiency (189.4 rating). Adding the statistics from his eight games with the Red Raiders, Mayfield ranks No. 7 all-time among FBS quarterbacks in passing yards (14,607) and fourth in TD passes. He led the Sooners to three Big 12 titles and two College Football Playoff berths in three years as a starter.
With Mayfield pulling the strings, the Sooners led the nation in total offense (579.6 ypg), yards per play (8.29) and yards per pass attempt (11.7) last season. He guided the unit on five touchdown drives in the Rose Bowl against Georgia, one of the best defenses in the nation, which with a little help from his defense would have put OU in position to play for a national championship. Now, after four years as a team leader in Norman and three seasons lighting up scoreboards with the Sooners, Mayfield is finally out of eligibility.
Replacing Mayfield’s production would be an extremely difficult challenge for any program, but the Sooners are in a unique position because Oklahoma is in good hands with Kyler Murray. As head coach Lincoln Riley provided a seamless transition when Bob Stoops retired last year, Murray too should offer a smooth transition for Oklahoma at the quarterback position.
Murray and Mayfield are similar in several ways. Both signed with schools in their home state of Texas, but transferred to Oklahoma after their true freshman seasons despite spending time as the starting quarterback. Both have extreme confidence and are creative playmakers capable of churning out big yards and making plays with their feet as well as their arm.
However, there are also some key differences. Mayfield was a three-star recruit out of Lake Travis, ranked No. 47 among pro-style quarterback prospects, No. 184 among Texas recruits, and the No. 1131 overall prospect in the class of 2013 in the 247Sports Composite. Mayfield played with a chip on his shoulder because he was often overlooked and undervalued.
Murray was a better-known commodity. Despite being listed at 5-foot-10 and 192 pounds, Murray was such an incredible high school quarterback he earned a five-star rating and was widely considered the top dual-threat QB prospect in the 2015 recruiting class. (If you have a few hours to kill, just search for “Kyler Murray highlights” on YouTube and let yourself fall down the rabbit hole). He is so talented the Sooners introduced a special package of plays to get him on the field alongside Mayfield in 2017.
An Allen native, Murray opted to sign with Texas A&M and appeared in eight games in 2015, including three starts, as a true freshman. He completed 72 of 121 passes (59.5 percent) for 686 yards and five touchdowns, and also threw seven interceptions. Murray added 335 rushing yards and a TD and gained 6.3 yards per carry despite eight sacks knocking down his average. In limited action in 2017, Murray completed 18 of 21 pass attempts (85.7 percent) for 359 yards and three touchdowns. He added 142 rushing yards on 14 carries, including a 66-yarder on the first play from scrimmage in his start against West Virginia.
Murray also is a highly regarded baseball player. He played 27 games for the Sooners baseball team last season, and the most difficult part of the transition from Mayfield to Murray will likely be time management. Murray split time between both programs last spring, participating in both football practice and baseball games. Riley and OU baseball coach Skip Johnson apparently have a similar plan in place for 2018, and have reportedly strategized ways to be more efficient while sharing the star athlete — especially since Murray is now competing for the starting QB job with Tanner Schafer and Austin Kendall.
Because of his size, Murray does not project as an NFL quarterback, and though he is such a dynamic playmaker he could contribute at another position, his professional future could be as an outfielder on the diamond. Either way, Murray has had two years to learn Riley’s system. He knows the offense, and he’s already the most talented quarterback on the roster — and among the most talented in the country.
Mayfield will long be a folk hero for Oklahoma fans, but the Sooners should be just fine without him in 2018.
— Written by Nicholas Ian Allen, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @NicholasIAllen.
(Top photo courtesy of Getty Images)