It didn’t take long Saturday for the focus to shift with Oklahoma. Maybe it’s because there was no major storyline that happened in the Sooners 38-17 win against Kansas State.
Or maybe it’s because everybody has had this week circled for a long time, dating back to last season. Indeed, it will be quarterback Baker Mayfield’s return to Lubbock, Texas, as a player when OU takes on Texas Tech on Saturday evening.
Mayfield is ready.
“Old fan base,” Mayfield said. “They’ll be ready for me when I get down there; that’s for sure. I’m excited for it. It’s always fun to play in Lubbock. This time, I’m on the other side of it. It’ll be interesting. I’ll have my guys ready. It should be an interesting time.”
Interesting is one way to phrase it, suppose. By now everybody knows the story. Heard Mayfield’s side of it. Sort of heard the Tech side of things. Figure there is a truth somewhere between what the two parties believe, but they’re back this weekend.
Mayfield walked on to Texas Tech in 2013 and was the starter for the first half of the season before things fell apart on the field and with Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury.
Never lacking confidence, Mayfield transferred to OU to compete against Trevor Knight, who just had the best game of his career in a 45-31 win against Alabama in the Sugar Bowl.
After sitting out the 2014 season per NCAA transfer rules (more on that later), Mayfield returned to the gridiron last year and took OU to the college football playoff.
He earned another victory this summer when that lost year of eligibility was returned following a vote among the Big 12 members. Mayfield was never on scholarship with the Red Raiders so a lot of people wondered why he had to lose that year.
“I think all along I was optimistic just because it seemed so absolutely correct and right to do,” said Bob Stoops during the summer when the change was made. “If you take Baker Mayfield out of the equation, it’s a 10-0 vote and wouldn’t take probably five minutes to talk through it.
“But that wasn’t the case. But I guess I just ultimately believed that right would come through and it’s the right thing to do for all athletes moving forward. Fortunately it worked out that way.”
Now the question is focus. Tech is coming in having lost back-to-back games yet this game was still selected as the 7 p.m. CST primetime showdown on Fox. Don’t get it twisted, Mayfield coming back to Lubbock is still a really big deal.
He was there two years ago but couldn’t participate. The emotions ran high on that afternoon but will be off the charts Saturday.
“Yeah, this time I’ll have the pads on and be playing,” Mayfield said. “We’ll see how our guys handle the violent environment we’re gonna be in.”
Handling the environment will be key and the way to do that is to not focus on Mayfield’s return to face the Red Raiders and their crowd. It’s going to have to be about more than that.
The Sooners are playing their best football of the season right now, winners of three consecutive games. The consistency still is not there 100 percent, which should give OU enough things to worry about than “winning one for Baker.”
Even at less than 100 percent, Tech quarterback Patrick Mahomes can make things happen. And with as spotty as OU’s secondary has been all season, don’t be surprised if it’s another shootout.
There will be other storylines to follow throughout the week, but as difficult as it can be, Mayfield coming back to his old stomping grounds can’t swallow the week.
“That’s Baker. The return, that’s pretty much Baker,” wide receiver Dede Westbrook said. “But at the end of the day we have to come out and play. We have to play smart and physical.”
A test of focus as much as the game itself could determine OU’s fate this weekend.