During the early part of the summer of 2016, it looked like Baker Mayfield's 2017 season at Oklahoma wouldn't even happen. Because of conference eligibility rules that precluded walk-ons from maintaining an extra year of eligibility if they sit out a season after they transfer, Mayfield (who, after his walk-on freshman season at Texas Tech in 2013, transferred to Oklahoma and sat out 2014) was looking at 2016 being his final season in Norman.
However, in June of 2016, the Big XII faculty athletic representatives voted to amend that rule, paving the way for Mayfield to come back for a fifth year of college in 2017. It actually took two attempts for the amendment to pass — the first vote was a 5-5 stalemate, the second the very next day was a 7-3 win for Mayfield — but pass it did.
Mayfield was sublime in that 2016 season, making a trip to New York as a Heisman finalist, but in 2017, he was next-level great, running an offense that exceeded an already historic yards per play in 2016 by a full yard in 2017, and leading Oklahoma to its second berth in the College Football Playoff. As a result, Mayfield is expected to win the 2017 Heisman Trophy in resounding fashion, so resounding that you can't even wager on it.
On Tuesday, it was announced that Mayfield would indeed be making the return trip to New York this weekend, as he was named one of three finalists for college football's most prestigious award, along with 2016 Heisman winner Lamar Jackson of Louisville and running back Bryce Love of Stanford.
Mayfield's 2017 season has been a dual assault on the college football record book, as well as the sensibilities of opposing fans. On the field, Mayfield set a new FBS record for passing efficiency, breaking his own record set in 2016. He led the Sooners to their third straight Big XII championship, punctuating the crown with a 41-17 win over TCU this past Saturday in the conference title game.
However, Mayfield has not been without his share of controversy. He was involved in an incident where a video of Norman police tackling him this past summer went viral before the season. Then, in Week 2, after a resounding win in Columbus over Ohio State, Mayfield planted the OU flag on the Buckeye logo at midfield. Finally, he was suspended for a portion of the West Virginia game over Thanksgiving weekend after he was captured on television making an obscene gesture at the Kansas bench the week before. Still, none of that should preclude Mayfield from becoming the Sooners' sixth Heisman Trophy winner in the history of the school.
Jackson makes his second trip to New York after winning the award in 2016. His stats this season are almost similar to his Heisman campaign last season, as the Louisville signal caller threw for 3,489 yards with 25 touchdowns. Jackson added 1,443 yards and 17 touchdowns rushing the football, and he averaged 411 yards of total offense per game in 2017, leading the nation in a runaway.
Somewhat amazingly, Love becomes Stanford's fifth finalist since 2009 and sixth in school history (Elway 1982, Gerhart 2009, Luck 2010, Luck 2011, McCaffrey 2015, Love 2017). Love finished second in the nation in rushing with 1,973 yards and scored 17 touchdowns. He did most of his work while gutting out a severely injured ankle, and had ten 100-yards games while averaging a remarkable 8.32 yards a carry.
The award will be officially handed out this Saturday night in New York City.
FUN HEISMAN FACTS
* The only Heisman winner to repeat is Archie Griffin of Ohio State (1974, 1975). However, since they began inviting finalists to the award ceremony in 1982, Jackson becomes the sixth former winner to be invited back as a finalist the next season. The others are Ty Detmer (1990 winner), Jason White (2003 winner), Matt Leinart (2004 winner), Tim Tebow (2007 winner), and Johnny Manziel (2012 winner).
* Actually, Tebow is the only three time Heisman finalist since 1982, winning on his first try in 2007 and finishing 3rd and 5th in 2008 and 2009, respectively.
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* Mayfield will try to become the fifth player to cash in and win the year after being invited as a finalist and not winning. The others are Doug Flutie (1984 winner), Vinny Testaverde (1986 winner), Danny Wuerffel (1996 winner), and Reggie Bush (2005 winner, whose win, somewhat hilariously, erased from the voting history page on the Heisman website).
* Eight players have been invited to multiple Heisman ceremonies without winning the trophy — BYU QB Robbie Bosco (1984, 1985), Iowa State RB Troy Davis (1995, 1996), Purdue QB Drew Brees (1999, 2000), Miami QB Ken Dorsey (2001, 2002), Arkansas RB Darren McFadden (2006, 2007), Texas QB Colt McCoy (2008, 2009), Stanford QB Andrew Luck (2010, 2011), and Clemson QB Deshaun Watson (2015, 2016).
* Eli Manning is tied with his brother, Peyton, with one Heisman finalist trip to New York and zero Heisman trophies. (I think that would actually shock a lot of casual college football fans, on multiple levels.)
Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanTPendergast and like him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SeanTPendergast.