It’s a point that gets glossed over from time to time. Oklahoma has the highest of expectations for the 2016 season. With good reason, too, based on the talent that is returning in Norman and the influx coming in.
And provided Baker Mayfield stays healthy. What if he doesn’t? Mayfield suffered two concussions at the end of the 2015 season yet you realize he probably won’t change his style of play because it’s that never-say-die attitude that led to some of OU’s finest moments.
Mayfield has seen about everything in college football since walking on at Texas Tech and earning the starting gig for the 2013 season. His successor? He was in high school at this time last year. Austin Kendall is one play away from leading the Sooners.
Everybody is OK with that.
“Love it,” said head coach Bob Stoops about Kendall’s progress. “In particular the last couple weeks you can tell he’s getting more and more comfortable and quicker in his decision-making and decisive in where he’s going with the ball. For a young guy he’s really been smart protecting the ball.”
The one great aspect of this situation is there is no looking over your shoulder for any reason. Mayfield is the guy, unquestioned. Kendall is the backup, no ifs ands or buts about it.
Trevor Knight is starting at Texas A&M. Cody Thomas is playing in the Los Angeles Dodgers organization. This is Kendall’s show to get acclimated with, a process that’s still on-going.
“Definitely the mental,” said Kendall about the most challenging transition. “I’m still missing stuff that he was teaching me in the spring. I need to keep getting into the playbook and keep getting better at the little things.”
Getting better at the little things will lead to getting better at the big things and arriving in the spring was huge for his development. Kendall admits he’s not sure where he would have been with the offense if it wasn’t for being in Norman for spring ball.
The words have been kind about Kendall, but everybody knows the kid gloves are going to have to come off. If he’s out there, nobody is going to be saying he’s just a freshman and to cut him some slack.
Doesn’t work like that at quarterback. Doesn’t work like that at OU. He’s one play away.
“That’s the biggest thing,” Kendall said. “That’s why Coach Riley – when I’m missing these little things – he’s getting so mad at me. I need to learn from those. I just need to get back into the playbook. When I’m out there, I need to do as I’m told.”
He has a good mentor in Mayfield to show him the ropes. Now a team captain and the heart and soul of the team, Mayfield carries himself with that type of leadership.
The key isn’t just to let Kendall know when things are going wrong, though. Kendall said one thing he’s appreciated from Mayfield is how many times he’ll let him know when he’s doing something right.
The trust factor seems to be there. In talking to multiple teammates throughout camp, nobody batted an eye about Kendall’s abilities at the position. Kendall knew he had to earn that and believes he’s done just that heading into the season opener.
Offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley knows why he wanted Kendall in Norman. He knows why Kendall was his first quarterback choice after Riley took over for the Sooners. Now he wants to see what his first protégé can do.
“They have to play confident,” Riley said. “He’s a good enough player. He should play confident. I think it’s learning what he can do well and being able to build upon it. It’s understanding the kind of playmakers that we have and how he needs to distribute the ball.
“It’s going to be a lot different group than we had last year in a lot of different areas. As quarterbacks, we’ve kind of seen that and we’ve adjusted to that a little bit. I think we’re starting to get into a rhythm a little bit with those guys.”