LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield insisted that his third-ranked Sooners are approaching a trip to Kansas on Saturday as if they were facing anybody else on the daunting schedule.
He said it with a straight face, too.
The reality is that the Heisman Trophy front-runner has every reason to look past the one-win Jayhawks, especially with a tougher game against West Virginia and the revived Big 12 title game looming. And if the Sooners (9-1, 6-1 Big 12) get through those three games, they would likely end up in the College Football Playoff after moving up to fourth in the rankings this week.
“It doesn’t matter who we’re playing. We have to rise to the occasion and play well, week-in and week-out,” Mayfield said. “It’s been the same mindset, the same process. Nothing changes for me.”
Well, the opponent has changed.
Last week was a high-profile showdown against then-No. 6 TCU, which the Sooners won in convincing fashion. This week it’s a trip to Kansas (1-9, 0-7), which not only has dropped every game it has played against a Football Subdivision Opponent but has been blown out in almost all of them.
The closest game was a 10-point loss to rival Kansas State a few weeks ago.
So it would be easy for the Sooners to overlook the Jayhawks, but Mayfield and coach Lincoln Riley insist it’s not happening. They know that a mediocre effort against a low-level opponent would look bad in the eyes of the selection committee, and even a blowout win probably won’t help much.
“You can’t have the sense you’ve arrived,” Riley said. “When you start feeling that way, you’re in trouble. There’s so many things we can do better. We’ve had a lot of growth as a football team — we’ve taken some positive steps. But there’s a lot of football left to be played.”
Not nearly as much for the Jayhawks, who will play their home finale on Saturday before hitting the road to Oklahoma State to wrap up another dismal season under third-year coach David Beaty.
Beaty got a vote of confidence this week from school Chancellor Douglas Girod in a letter sent to faculty and students, writing that the coach has the right “long-term vision” for the program.
In the short term, Beaty desperately needs a win. He is 3-31 with the Jayhawks.
“This is a terrific football team that’s coming in and we’ve got a great opportunity,” Beaty said. “We’ve got a really great opportunity, and our guys are excited, encouraged and confident.”
As the Sooners and Jayhawks prepare to meet, here are some key story lines:
Mayfield moved to the top of the list with his performance against the Horned Frogs, and the Jayhawks should offer a chance for him to polish his resume. They’re giving up more than 275 yards passing per game and 42.2 points, which ranks 127th nationally.
BIG 12 STANDOUT
Sooners running back Rodney Anderson was the league’s offensive player of the week after running for 151 yards and two touchdowns and catching five passes for 139 yards and two more TDs against the Horned Frogs. He should get plenty of totes against Kansas, especially if things get out of hand.
Kansas will only honor eight or nine seniors during its home finale, Beaty said this week. That includes two who played their entire careers with the Jayhawks in tight end Ben Johnson and linebacker Kellen Ash.
“Kind of crazy just thinking about all the guys I came in here with. Two of us made it out,” Johnson said. “It’s kind of a testament to our character, sticking it through.”
Riley and Beaty both have deep Texas roots, so it’s hardly a surprise they are tight — at least, when their teams aren’t playing each other.
“One of my best friends in the coaching business,” Riley said of Beaty, “a great human being. Just have a ton of respect for him as a coach.”
Freshmen defensive backs Robert Barnes, Tre Brown and Tre Norwood made their first career starts against the Horned Frogs and helped shut down their offense. Now, they’ll face a Jayhawks offense that looked good against Kansas State but has been inconsistent all season.