NORMAN, Okla. — If you’re willing to listen, there’s a lot of useful advice available at a Heisman Trophy ceremony. College football’s most exclusive fraternity wants to impart wisdom on its new members.
Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield listened when 2000 winner Chris Weinke bent his ear. Weinke put himself in position to win the award by leading Florida State to the national title game. Of course, Oklahoma beat the Seminoles to win the national title that season.
“There’s a lot of responsibility that’s attached with this, but don’t lose your focus. What got you here is how you play and the guys around you,” Mayfield said. “Don’t lose sight of that.”
The second-ranked Sooners (12-1) are beginning preparations for their meeting with No. 3 Georgia (12-1) on Jan. 1 in the College Football Playoff semifinal at the Rose Bowl. Coaches have largely been absent from campus for two weeks due to recruiting. The practice the Sooners held on Thursday was just their second in the last two weeks.
Mayfield is coming off a whirlwind week that took him around the country on the awards circuit, ending with the Heisman Trophy presentation in New York.
“There’s a lot of stuff; they keep you busy. There are a lot of appearances and whatnot. It’s tiring and traveling in itself is tiring. It’s different,” Mayfield said. “I had fun. It’s great being around the past winners. It’s a neat deal that not many people get to experience. It didn’t matter how tired I was, I was going to enjoy it.”
Does the Heisman curse still exist?
It depends on far you want to go back to answer that question. Alabama running back Derrick Henry (2015) is the last Heisman winner to reach the College Football Playoff. The Crimson Tide rode him to the national title. Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota went 1-1 after the he claimed the trophy in 2014. He led Oregon to a rout of No. 3 Florida State in the Rose Bowl, then fell to Ohio State in the national title game.
Before the playoff began, Jameis Winston (2013), Cam Newton (2010) and Mark Ingram (2009) were the three most recent Heisman winners to win national championships.
Prior to that, the thought was that the scrutiny and attention that falls on Heisman winners tended to wear them down prior to bowl games.
Mayfield became the third Oklahoma quarterback to win the award, joining Jason White (2003) and Sam Bradford (2008). White and Bradford both ended their Heisman-winning seasons with losses with the national title on the line.
Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley isn’t concerned about the added weight on his quarterback.
“You can feel the magnitude of those things when you get to those events. Those will be things that I look back on at some point and be proud of what we all did here,” Riley said. “I’m sure we’ll feel that way, but we have too much in front of us right now.”
Baker Mayfield doesn’t live in a shell
Where Mayfield separates himself from Oklahoma’s other Heisman Trophy-winning quarterbacks is his demeanor. Mayfield is more comfortable in the spotlight than Bradford or White were. The local mania surrounding him grew for three years before culminating this season. Mayfield started this season on the short list of Heisman Trophy favorites. The attention is nothing new.
Since last season ended, Mayfield has talked up the goal of wanting to leave Oklahoma with a national championship. He doesn’t seem in awe of the individual accolades.
“I think that’s a good thing for me, knowing that our goals are still in front of us,” Mayfield said. “One thing I’ve been able to do is never have that moment where I think I’ve made it. That’s good for us as a team moving forward. I keep saying our goals are in front of us, but it’s the truth.”
There’s been a lot of discussion about Mayfield’s place in Oklahoma football history. Statistically, he’s up there with any of the legends. But none of the program’s first five Heisman winners were able to lead their teams to national championships. Only Billy Sims in 1978 ended the season with a bowl victory.
If Mayfield can become the first, his stature in Sooners history rises even higher. Even Heisman Trophy winners still remember the championships that got away.
“It was a common theme among guys that were able to win it [Heisman Trophy] and play for a national championship. I got the same advice from all of them,” Mayfield said. “This is a special deal and I’m not gonna downplay that. But if I could do anything, it would be finishing it out by winning the big one.”