ATLANTA – Baker Mayfield had just arrived in Arkansas for an awards program when the first call came from a Georgia area code. Then another. Then a text. And more texts. An hour later so many had come that the battery died.
When Mayfield, the Oklahoma quarterback and Heisman Trophy favorite, finally re-charged his phone and turned it back on, he had screen shots from friends showing that someone had passed out his number to Georgia fans, who were about as savage as their team’s defense. The Rose Bowl wasn’t for another four weeks, but Georgia had already affected Mayfield: He had to change his number for the first time since eighth grade.
“There were a couple that were pretty good,” Mayfield said, smiling. “Some people asking if I had done my homework yet. I guess they were concerned about my academics so I was appreciative about that.”
Mayfield recounted that Wednesday night at the College Football Hall of Fame, where he and other stars were attending the College Football Awards show. And thus Mayfield made his first public appearance after the playoff announcement in the home state of the team he will play.
“Physical team,” Mayfield said of Georgia, who he hasn’t studied on film yet but has watched on television. “I’ve seen how Jake Fromm and those running backs play offense. They play well. I know just from the receivers – we tried to get (Javon) Wims to come to Oklahoma so I know what type of player he is. They have a bunch of talented guys.
“That’s not even getting into their front seven. They’ve got a bunch of physical guys. That’s the type of match-up we’re looking forward to. When you look at it is strength against strength.”
Oklahoma’s offense ranks first nationally in total yards and fourth in scoring. Georgia’s defense ranks fourth in least yards allowed and third in scoring defense.
Mayfield spoke like he knew what he was getting into: Setting aside whether the Big 12 has worthy defenses, Oklahoma played at and beat Ohio State earlier this year, and Auburn and Tennessee in recent years.
“I think they have the speed of when we played Tennessee,” said Mayfield, who in one of his first starts at Oklahoma passed for 185 yard and three touchdowns in a 31-24 win at Tennessee in Sept., 2015. “They had some very fast linebackers. (Jaylon) Maybin-Reeves was one of the best linebackers I’ve ever played again, but Roquan Smith I think is more talented. Their whole front is similar to Ohio State in how talented he is. There’s not a weakness. It’s going to be a challenge, but that’s what we like.”
Mayfield has become a mini-celebrity in college football. Someone on Wednesday night asked him to name his three favorite Justin Timberlake songs. (“What’s Your Love Girl,” “ Rock Your Body” and then he had a hard time picking a third.) He’s also gained a reputation for being a bit too wild, with a disorderly conduct arrest earlier this year, and then the crotch grab against Kansas which caused him to be stripped of his captain status before the next game.
Mayfield said this season has been one of “ups and downs,” with the ups being on the field, the downs being off it.
“The thing for me is I’m learning and growing. I’ve addressed those things. I’m not going to put on a front and act like I’m some perfect kid. I’m 22 years old. I’m learning and going through life. I’m proud to say I’ve gone through this process and let people know I’m growing and I’m becoming a better person.”
That included taking it in stride when Georgia fans blew up his phone.
“Respect. I respect them,” Mayfield said. “People ask me if I was really that mad. No, not really, it was pretty funny. Creative stuff. I’d hope that our fans would do the same thing if they got a chance.”