Is Oklahoma QB Baker Mayfield a Legit Heisman Contender?

Ben Kercheval@@BenKerchevalCollege Football Lead WriterSeptember 20, 2015

NORMAN, OK - SEPTEMBER 19: Quarterback Baker Mayfield #6 of the Oklahoma Sooners runs for a touchdown against the Tulsa Golden Hurricane at Gaylord Family Memorial Stadium on September 19, 2015 in Norman, Oklahoma. (Photo by Jackson Laizure/Getty Images)
Jackson Laizure/Getty Images

Context can be important when sizing up big-time performances in college football this time of year, but here's one thing that doesn't need context: 

Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield is entertaining as hell. 

In the Sooners' 52-38 shootout win over Tulsa on Saturday, Mayfield accounted for a school-record 572 yards of offense plus six touchdowns. Granted, the Golden Hurricane had given up 476.5 yards and 32.5 points per game heading into Week 3. And their opponents were Florida Atlantic and New Mexico. 

There's the context. Sometimes, though, it doesn't matter how good or bad a defense is, because there is no defense good enough to contain a play like this: 

That doesn't need context. That's pure playmaking ability. There is no coach in the world who can prepare a defense for that. And as unfair as comparisons can be, it was the type of moment that conjured up memories of a recent Heisman Trophy winner by the name of Johnny Manziel: 

"He has a good ability to feel the rush when the rush is on him," Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops said of Mayfield (via Jason Kersey of the Oklahoman). "He can get out and scramble away from it and even look downfield and wait for someone to come open or make the decision to run when he has the lane to run. He's pretty heady that way."

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Now the question becomes: Can those types of plays get Mayfield a Heisman of his own?

This time of year is a paradox for Heisman chatter. It's early enough that anyone with even one breakout performance can be called a Heisman candidate, but it's also so early that calling a player a Heisman candidate doesn't carry a ton of weight. The season is long, and the toughest games are mostly still ahead. The phrase "legitimate Heisman contender" probably doesn't apply to anyone just yet. 

But if we're throwing names into the conversation, Mayfield at least warrants consideration. After all, LSU running back Leonard Fournette just ran through an Auburn defense that was putrid last year and doesn't appear to be much better this season. Yet Fournette tops the Heisman lists of both Bruce Feldman and Stewart Mandel of Fox Sports, while Mayfield doesn't even crack the top five. 

Of course, it wasn't just that Fournette rushed for 228 yards and three touchdowns. It's that he did so in jaw-dropping fashion

The same could be said about Mayfield, though. Part of his game is extending plays with his feet and doing things few other quarterbacks can do. His confidence gives the Sooners offense an extra spark it hasn't had in a few years. Ask Tennessee fans what Mayfield did to the Volunteers defense in the second half of Oklahoma's Week 2 win in Knoxville. 

"You can tell he has great energy and great passion. He's kind of the gas pedal for their offense, and I think they feed off him," Tennessee coach Butch Jones said before his team faced Mayfield and the Sooners, per Scott Hiney of the Oklahoma Daily

Mayfield has also played his best football in the second halves of games. As Eric Bailey of the Tulsa World tweeted, the junior's second-half stats in three games this year reflect his ability to get better as the game goes on: 

It shouldn't come as a huge surprise that Mayfield has performed so well. He was the Big 12 Offensive Freshman of the Year at Texas Tech in 2013. It's not like he came out of nowhere. 

Even though they won't be viewed as the biggest contests of the year, Mayfield can cement his Heisman campaign by having big games against his next three opponents: West Virginia, Texas and Kansas State. The Mountaineers and Wildcats have two of the top three scoring defenses in the Big 12, and the Red River Showdown could feature tons of offense if the Longhorns continue to play like they did in a loss to Cal on Saturday. 

For that matter, Mayfield could also put up gaudy numbers against Texas Tech on Oct. 24. Not to mention the spotlight will be on him versus his former head coach, Kliff Kingsbury.

Four more big games would undoubtedly put Mayfield in the thick of the Heisman discussion, a place he hasn't yet reached. But the Heisman is not won in the offseason or the month of September. 

Besides, Mayfield has been a second-half kind of player anyway. 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football. All quotes obtained firsthand unless cited otherwise. All stats courtesy of