NORMAN, Okla. — A quarterback matchup the likes of Saturday’s showdown between Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield and Ohio State’s J.T. Barrett is rare, especially in the regular season.
Barrett finished fifth in the Heisman Trophy balloting in 2014, Mayfield finished fourth last year, and both are in the discussion this year.
The most recent matchup between quarterbacks who both entered a game having finished in the top five in any previous Heisman race came when Mayfield’s Sooners played Deshaun Watson’s Clemson Tigers last season in the College Football Playoff. Before that, it was when Oregon’s Marcus Mariota and Florida State’s Jameis Winston met in the College Football Playoff after the 2014 season. Before that, you’d have to go back to the championship game after the 2008 season, when Florida’s Tim Tebow and Oklahoma’s Sam Bradford squared off.
Mayfield welcomes the pressure that comes with playing a team with an elite signal caller. He knows that Barrett’s talent leaves the 14th-ranked Sooners with little margin for error against the third-ranked Buckeyes .
“It makes the competition fun, but I’ve just got to focus in on my job,” Mayfield said. “I also know I’ve got to push a little bit harder, got to push those guys (teammates) a little bit more.”
A loss against Ohio State would likely kill Oklahoma’s national title hopes and Mayfield’s Heisman hopes. A win would boost both causes significantly.
“This is kind of the opportunity you come to a place like this to play in games like this, where everybody’s watching on a Saturday night,” Mayfield said. “It has a lot of things that could happen after.”
Barrett’s arrival at this point hasn’t been smooth. He suffered a season-ending broken right ankle against Michigan late in that dynamic 2014 season, and Cardale Jones took over and led the Buckeyes to the national title. Barrett and Jones split time last season, but now Barrett has the job to himself and looks like his 2014 self. He has completed 66 percent of his passes for 498 yards and six touchdowns in two games this season, and has 85 yards and three touchdowns rushing.
“He’s just an all-around good player,” Mayfield said. “I’d say there’s three guys in the country that do what he does, including him. Deshaun Watson and Greg Ward (Houston) would be the other two. Guys that are able to throw it as best as anybody and also run it better than anybody else.”
Mayfield walked on at Texas Tech and played there as a freshman in 2013 before transferring to Oklahoma and sitting out a year. He won the starting job at Oklahoma last season in a preseason battle with Trevor Knight and quickly proved himself capable. He eventually passed for 3,700 yards and 36 touchdowns and led the Sooners to the Playoff.
“The ball is out fast,” Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said. “They give him a lot of responsibility like we do J.T. as far as on run plays, throwing screens and the tempo. Obviously, he knows that offense, you can tell, very well.”
When the ball isn’t out quickly, Mayfield can be even more dangerous. He ran for 405 yards and seven touchdowns last season. He is not as effective a runner as Barrett, but his ability to improvise makes him dangerous.
“The biggest thing is he’s a creator of plays,” Meyer said. “He just doesn’t make the plays when they are there, but he had a couple of outstanding plays where nothing was there, and it’s hard to bring him down.”
Follow Cliff Brunt on Twitter @CliffBruntAP