The college football offseason doldrums are officially here, and we want to spice things up. Over the next few weeks, DieHards is going to look at some of the greatest hypotheticals in Big 12 history.
Baker Mayfield’s story has been beaten into the minds of every Big 12 fan the last few seasons. After walking on at Texas Tech, Mayfield lost the starting job to Davis Webb. He responded by walking on at Oklahoma and turning into one of the Big 12’s greatest players.
Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury ensures that Mayfield eventually would have earned a scholarship. Considering the talent Mayfield showed later, there’s a great chance he could have earned the starting quarterback job, too.
Mayfield left Oklahoma with 12,292 passing yards, 138 total touchdowns, a Heisman Trophy and three Big 12 championships.
But what if Mayfield never arrived at Oklahoma? What if he thought better and decided to compete with Webb for the starting job in Lubbock?
How it affects Texas Tech
Oddly enough, Mayfield might not have made any difference if he stayed at Texas Tech. Quarterback was the least of Kliff Kingsbury’s issues.
After Mayfield left — and after Webb was benched — future first-round NFL draft pick Patrick Mahomes took over at quarterback. All he did was throw for nearly 10,000 yards in two seasons as the starter. As a junior, Mahomes crossed the 5,000-yard mark and threw for 41 touchdowns in just 12 games.
But despite the insane production, Texas Tech went a combined 12-13 in Mahomes’ two seasons, thanks to some horrific defense. In 2016, the Red Raiders gave up an average 554.3 yards per game. That’s good enough for second worst in college football history. A year earlier, Texas Tech gave up 547.7 yards per game.
Adding Mayfield to the mix doesn’t help that at all. In fact, there’s a decent chance he wouldn’t have been as good as Mahomes in that system. There’s a decent chance Mayfield also would not have developed the same way in Lubbock as he did under Lincoln Riley’s tutelage at Oklahoma.
The only way Mayfield makes a difference is if he suddenly gains 100 pounds and decides to be a star defensive tackle. Otherwise, Texas Tech would have been just as bad.
How it affects Oklahoma
In 2014, Mayfield’s redshirt year, Oklahoma was in trouble. The Sooners went 8-5, their worst record since 2009. Supposed superstar quarterback Trevor Knight was shockingly terrible, and completed only 56.6 percent of his passes.
Oklahoma’s slip came at a critical time in Big 12 history. Baylor and TCU were overtaking the Sooners as class of the conference. Texas brought in highly touted coach Charlie Strong and he was raking in recruiting wins. Bob Stoops was quickly losing his mystique in a post-Sam Bradford world.
What if Mayfield never arrives to save the day?
Oklahoma would still have a talented team, but it’s unclear how good the program would’ve been with Knight behind center. Without Mayfield’s heroics, there’s a good chance Oklahoma loses to Tennessee, Baylor and TCU in 2015 and finishes 8-4 again.
Riley is an offensive genius, but he needed Mayfield’s passing ability to build his behemoth in Norman. It’s hard to think he could have done it with Knight. Maybe Kyler Murray would have been the answer in 2017, but there’s no guarantee.
Stoops likely would have been gone regardless. But if Oklahoma has back-to-back 8-4 seasons in 2014 and 2015, there’s no way that an inexperienced assistant is promoted to head coach.
Heading into 2018, Oklahoma likely would be sitting here with a rebuilding coach, no Big 12 titles in the last three seasons and — even worse — consecutive Bedlam losses.
Is Big 12 better off?
Surprisingly, the Big 12 across the board is better off for Mayfield leaving Lubbock. It’s rare to see every party benefit from a decision, but it worked out that way.
Texas Tech remains completely unaffected by Mayfield’s departure. In fact, Mahomes developed into one of the program’s most beloved players. Even though the on-field success is not there, watching Mahomes in the NFL next season will have been worth it.
Oklahoma desperately needed Mayfield. The rest of the Big 12 did, too. Without Mayfield, the Big 12 might still be without a College Football Playoff appearance. Even losing in the Rose Bowl last month helped bring major attention to the conference. Mayfield’s rivalry with Texas Tech also produced some great moments.
Mayfield is one of the most polarizing figures in Big 12 history. Fans across the league hated his antics. Regardless, it’s impossible to argue that the conference is not better off for hosting one of the brightest stars in the history of college football.
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