Heisman hopes and his Sooners legacy are on line for Mayfield

It all comes down to Saturday's game against Texas inside the Cotton Bowl for Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma's fifth-year senior quarterback.

At stake is a boost for his Heisman Trophy candidacy and correcting Oklahoma's course toward a national championship, not to mention his Sooner legacy.

Mayfield finished a distant third in last season's Heisman race. He's running second this season, according to the online gambling site Bovada. But with last week's stunning loss to Iowa State, a perennial patsy on the Sooners' schedule, Mayfield fell further behind running back Saquon Barkley of undefeated Penn State, according to the oddsmaker.

Never mind that Mayfield passed for 306 yards and two touchdowns without an interception while rushing for 57 yards and another touchdown in Oklahoma's 38-31 home loss to Iowa State, a 30-point underdog.

It has been the Sooners' defense that has been thoroughly dissected and disparaged in the days since. Not surprisingly, Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley, renowned as an offensive mastermind, has assumed blame for his Sooners not doing more against Iowa State's defense that routinely dropped eight players into pass coverage.

Meanwhile, Barkley rushed for 75 yards and two touchdowns and caught two passes for nine yards in a walkover 31-7 victory over Northwestern. Oklahoma fell from a lofty No. 3 in the nation to No. 12. Penn State advanced one spot to Oklahoma's former place.

Mayfield, who usually speaks his mind and sometimes oversteps his bounds, wisely didn't bring up his Heisman candidacy during his news conference this week. Although he did make headlines in certain precincts when asked what he might know about fellow Austin high school alum Sam Ehlinger, the freshman quarterback likely to start for Texas.

"He went to Westlake, and he's never beaten Lake Travis," the Lake Travis graduate declared as his media audience laughed, nodded appreciatively and noted.

His less glib line about Saturday's game was almost gone with the wind.

"I think this (game) is more important than the ones in the past because of where we are at in the season right now — and where we want to be," Mayfield said. "We're coming off a tough loss. Saturday couldn't come soon enough."

The Sooners were undefeated when they met Texas in Mayfield's first start for Oklahoma against the Longhorns in 2015. They could afford to lose, which they promptly did 24-17. Last season, they had already lost twice and were eliminated from the national championship discussion before they limped into the Texas game and won 45-40.

Mayfield's team this season could rise from the ashes of Iowa State with an undefeated run that would have to include a victory over Texas as well as TCU, currently ranked No. 6, Oklahoma State, No. 14, and Texas Tech, No. 24. And then, of course, they would have to win in the resurrected Big 12 Championship Game.

Meanwhile, dominoes would have to fall around the country for the Sooners to reach college football's Final Four. That the Sooners can't control. But they can approach every game as if it is a College Football Playoff elimination game.

Which brings the Sooners to their step on their way to Oz — Texas in the Red River Rivalry.

Forget for a moment the Heisman Trophy race and/or a national championship quest for Mayfield & Co. in front of a national TV audience in the sweet 2:30 p.m. time slot. A simple victory over the archrival Longhorns would cement Mayfield, who walked on first at Texas Tech before transferring to Oklahoma, in Sooners' lore even if he and his teammates stumble in ensuing games.

A second win for Mayfield against Texas would put him in the company of Sooners quarterbacks that the likes of Sam Bradford, Josh Heupel, Thomas Lott and Jack Mildren aspired to but never reached.

Starting against the Longhorns and winning at least twice is heady stuff in Soonerland.

But Mayfield, a son of Austin who found his football home north of the Red River, prefers to think about his hometown college football team as if it is any other opponent.

"We haven't cut loose and just gone out and played ball yet," he said.

" ... It's about us. It wouldn't matter who we're playing, It's about getting back to work and fixing and making new corrections. We have to just handle ourselves and not take more for granted."

If they don't beat Texas, the hopes and dreams Mayfield and his teammates brought into the season, effectively will be dead.