Editor's note: I'll do a position-by-position review of the Sooners' 2016 season over the next few weeks and add some notes on what to look for in the fall. We'll start with Baker Mayfield and the rest of OU's signal callers.
2016 Recap: Two Bakers
The September 2016 version of Baker Mayfield was reminiscent of the frenetic freshman walk-on who played for Texas Tech in 2013. For as many problems as the Sooners had in that first month, Mayfield’s play killed any chance of beating the Cougars and Buckeyes.
Statistically speaking, his numbers didn’t suck in OU’s two marquee non-conference games against Houston and Ohio State: He owned a four-to-two ratio of touchdowns to interceptions, completing just north of 60 percent of his throws. He averaged 8.4 yards per attempt, which is a full yard more than the national median (7.25) for the year.
Yet, we saw a different story on the field. Mayfield played like a quarterback who spent the offseason reading his press clippings. The descriptor “Favrian” comes to mind - passing up easy, chain-moving throws for ill-advised deep shots and refusing to throw the ball away.
In OU’s 10-game winning streak to close the season, a switch flipped for the Heisman Trophy finalist. Mayfield’s turnaround coincided with the start of Big 12 play, which is notable. Receiver Dede Westbrook also started playing like a Heisman candidate, too.
Still, No. 6 played nearly flawless ball from October on. Any disappointments during that stretch came more in the form of individual plays, rather than the games themselves.
Just how good was Mayfield? He averaged a staggering 11.1 yards per attempt, the highest rate in FBS in 14 years.
Story of 2017: Get ready for a letdown
Mayfield will enter the 2017 season as one of the most celebrated players in the country. Frankly, it feels as though he’s getting set up to fail.
Even though he’ll have one of the best offensive lines in the country protecting him, Mayfield is losing his best weapons. Between Dede Westbrook and Joe Mixon, more than half of OU’s TD catches and a total in excess of 2,000 receiving yards are heading to the NFL this spring. Meanwhile, Mixon and Samaje Perine are leaving an enormous hole in a running game that won’t command nearly as much attention from opposing defenses.
In other words, Mayfield won’t replicate his ‘16 level of production. That doesn’t mean regression, but Mayfield and the rest of the Sooners will require a little time early on to get used to the new shape of things.
The danger in that scenario is that Mayfield will start pressing the way he did at the start of this past season, which puts the onus on offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley to keep his QB on an even keel.
The other guys: Cheer up, Murray
Inject Kyler Murray with a little truth serum, and he’d likely cop to being just a little bit irked that Mayfield got that eligibility waiver last year. After sitting out last season, the Texas A&M transfer now has to compete to be an understudy, rather than the star of the show.
Truth be told, Murray might not ever throw the ball well enough to make it to the top line of the depth chart. His shiftiness and athleticism, however, could enable the Texas schoolboy legend to carve out a place as an all-purpose player who lines up all over the field, including behind center on occasion.
Rising sophomore Austin Kendall actually owns the inside track to be Mayfield’s top backup after serving in that role in 2016. Kendall gained more notoriety for his mouth last fall than for anything he did on the field. He showed plenty of promise in limited duty, though.
Early enrollee Chris Robison will likely spend the fall sporting a redshirt, but his upside should put him in position to compete for the starting job this time next year.