NORMAN, Okla. — Part of Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield embraces being the bad guy.
He told Baylor’s players during warmups they “forgot who daddy is” and that he was going to have to spank them. Before playing Texas Tech — the school he left before walking on at Oklahoma — he wore a shirt with ‘TRAITOR’ across the front, then beat the Red Raiders again. And of course, he planted a crimson OU flag in the middle of the field at Ohio State after a win over the Buckeyes early in the season.
It’s obvious opponents pay attention to Mayfield’s antics — Iowa State planted a flag on Oklahoma’s field after an upset win, and Kansas’ captains refused to shake hands with him.
It all comes with the territory for perhaps the most polarizing figure in college football.
“If people love it, or if some people don’t love it, he’s OK with that,” Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley said. “He’s very secure with who he is. His goal is not to try to please everybody in the world. His goal is he’s going to be true to himself.”
Mayfield doesn’t mind jousting with fans on social media, either. Yet, for all the shenanigans, he’s all business between the lines. He has passed for 4,340 yards with 41 touchdown passes and just five interceptions this season, and he has rushed for 310 yards and five more scores.
He will be the first quarterback to finish in the top four of the Heisman Trophy balloting three times, and he’s favored to claim the award Saturday. He has blazed a winding, record-setting trail littered with big wins, emotional outbursts, awards and apologies, and he has done it all his way.
“I’ve had a lot of people trying to give me advice through all this, but the thing that I’ve realized is the person I am is the reason I’m here today,” Mayfield said. “I’ve had success because I’m confident and been enthusiastic and passionate about what I’m doing.”
Mayfield has crossed the line at times. He was arrested in February and charged with disorderly conduct, public intoxication and resisting arrest. After Kansas wouldn’t shake his hand, he later was caught on camera grabbing his crotch and swearing at the Kansas sideline. As punishment, he was stripped of his captaincy for his final home game against West Virginia and did not start.
Still, his teammates love him as is — so much that when he was stripped of his captain status, the remaining captains took his jersey with them to midfield for the coin toss for the West Virginia game . They know that the edge that gets him into trouble and riles opponents has led the Sooners to the College Football Playoff two of the past three years and to three consecutive Big 12 titles.
“Bake’s a personality guy, and we love him and we rally behind him,” Oklahoma left tackle Orlando Brown said. “What he does — we understand, people make mistakes. We understand that it’s wrong. But we rally behind him. We’re going to support each other no matter what.”
That’s because they see what many don’t. Beyond the outbursts is a man who has painstakingly transformed himself from undisciplined gunslinger as a walk-on at Texas Tech to perhaps the most efficient quarterback in college football history. He’s on track to break the single-season efficiency record he set last season.
“He’s going to work hard,” Riley said. “He knows what he wants to accomplish. He knows where he wants to go. He doesn’t let much stand in his way. He’s still a work in progress — we’ve all admitted it, and all seen it. He’s progressing in the right way.”
HEISMAN-DEFINING MOMENT: Mayfield passed for 386 yards and three touchdowns in a 31-16 win at Ohio State in September. He out-dueled J.T. Barrett to move to the head of the pack.
BEST GAME: He set the Oklahoma school record with 598 yards passing in a 62-52 win at Oklahoma State. He also threw five touchdown passes to win a shootout with Oklahoma State quarterback Mason Rudolph, another strong contender at the time.
WORST GAME: Only because the Sooners lost, it would have to be the 38-31 loss to Iowa State . Even then, he passed for 306 yards and two touchdowns and ran for 57 yards and another score.
PRO PROSPECTS: Mayfield’s decision-making and ability to work the ball into tight windows are appealing. His ability to improvise without taking unnecessary risks is rare, and he can make the throws. He has worked himself into being a likely first-round pick.
Follow Cliff Brunt on Twitter: www.twitter.com/CliffBruntAP .