Lamar Jackson, Louisville's Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback, finished the season accounting for 51 total touchdowns. Clemson's Deshaun Watson is presently getting ready to throw thunderbolts at the Alabama defense in next week's title game. In this context, you could be forgiven for forgetting about the third Heisman-finalist quarterback, Oklahoma's Baker Mayfield. His Sooners suffered two early-season losses to Houston and Ohio State that, even after Oklahoma went on to run the Big 12 table, fated the team to a New Year's Six bowl game instead of a spot in the College Football Playoff.
Monday night, OU's consolation game arrived in the form of the Sugar Bowl against Auburn. Pregame chatter centered on how the high-flying Sooners might match up with the Tigers' SEC brawn, but behind Mayfield, Oklahoma thoroughly and thrillingly silenced any doubts. After a slow start, the Sooners put up all 35 of their points in the final three quarters, showcasing the brilliance of an offense that has plenty going for it. There's live-wire receiver Dede Westbrook, for one, and a running game that could find a way through the Hoover Dam if given an hour, but there's no ingredient more essential to the Sooners' success, or more enjoyable to watch, than its signal-caller.
Here's a selection of what Mayfield got up to Monday night. On the Sooners' first score of the game, he snuck out of a busted pocket, waved tight end Mark Andrews toward middle of the end zone, and slung a tight-angled pass between two Auburn defenders for the touchdown. On a fourth down late in the second quarter, Mayfield backpedaled away from a blitz and looped a throw to a spot on the sideline; Westbrook appeared at the last second to pluck the ball out of the air. The summarizing play came with less than a minute left in the third, on the drive that put the game away. Flushed from the pocket again, Mayfield sprinted right and spun back left, shaking a Tiger defender to the turf before planting his feet and hitting receiver Geno Lewis smack dab in the chest for a 14-yard gain. A couple minutes later, it was 35-13; all that was left of the scoring was a meaningless Auburn touchdown as time expired.
Functionally, the importance of Mayfield to the Sooner attack is his ability to connect its disparate parts. He tosses inch-perfect screen passes; he runs the option; he throws gorgeous deep balls. Because he can do all this, Mayfield gives his running backs room and his receivers chances. He lets Lincoln Riley, Oklahoma's wunderkind offensive coordinator, show off the cleverness that will get him a head coaching job soon. He's not done doing it, either: to the delight of Sooner fans, Mayfield will be back in Norman next year. "The dream come true for me would be to win a national title at Oklahoma," Mayfield said as the confetti piled on his shoulder pads after the game.
For the rest of us, it doesn't much matter where the Sooners finish next season, or where Mayfield places in the Heisman balloting, or what scouts say about his pro potential. He is, right now, the perfect college quarterback. That is, he's a dude who rolls around and heaves bombs, who makes it all happen and celebrates like a Pee Wee player—full-field sprints, fists pumping—when it does. Other quarterbacks might set more impressive marks or play in more important games. Nobody more reliably brings the fun.