NORMAN, Okla. — Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield and Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury have had their share of disagreements — some publicly — since Mayfield walked-on with the Red Raiders five years ago.
But entering Mayfield’s final meeting against Texas Tech on Saturday in Norman, tensions have cooled and Mayfield has embraced his time in Lubbock, even if it didn’t last long.
“The journey has been incredible,” Mayfield said.
“Starting out there and only being there for five-and-a-half months, it wasn’t too long but at the same time it’s put me in the position where I’m at today. I learned a lot throughout that process, not necessarily just being there, but post-leaving. I’m obviously thankful for Coach Kingsbury and that staff for giving me a chance to walk-on there and kick-start my college career.
“Looking back on it, I don’t think I would be where I’m at right now if not for them giving me a chance.”
For the No. 9 Sooners, much of their offensive success this season can be attributed to Texas Tech.
First, Mayfield decided to transfer from the Red Raiders shortly after the 2013 regular season. In the end, he picked an Oklahoma team that had just posted a Sugar Bowl victory over Alabama with a dominant performance from quarterback Trevor Knight.
After sitting out for a season, Mayfield beat out Knight for the starting role and has twice finished in the top five in Heisman Trophy voting. As the national leader in passing efficiency, he appears to be well on his way toward another high finish.
Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley also has Texas Tech roots, having walked-on for the Red Raiders as a quarterback before then-coach Mike Leach convinced him to give up playing and instead get a head start on his coaching career.
That decision helped Riley land the head coaching job with the Sooners before his 34th birthday.
“Certainly wouldn’t be standing here talking to you guys without that place,” Riley said. “It’s always fun to play ’em. They’re always somebody, when we’re not playing ’em, I’m rooting for ’em.”
Riley was in his second season as a full-time assistant coach in 2008 when the No. 2 Red Raiders visited Norman, when No. 5 Oklahoma blew them out, 65-21, in what has become known in Oklahoma as the “Jump Around” game.
“A nightmare,” Riley said of his recollections of that game. “That was, still to this day, probably the best atmosphere I’ve ever played or coached or been a part of.
“That’s one of my lasting memories of it. Those who think a crowd or a great atmosphere can’t have an effect on a game, they weren’t at that game that night. It was unbelievable. It felt like we were just going head first into a buzzsaw. It was amazing.”
Kingsbury wasn’t around for that game, but he has plenty of experience with Riley.
Riley’s lone year as a walk-on was Kingsbury’s senior year at Texas Tech. Kingsbury witnessed Riley’s ascension among the coaching staff when he returned to Lubbock during his pro career.
“I’ve always respected Lincoln because of the way he’s worked,” Kingsbury said. “When he was a student assistant and a GA, he was up here at all hours with Coach Leach learning and grinding and doing whatever they asked him to do. He really paid his dues to get where he’s at.”
This season’s edition of Texas Tech isn’t riding high like those 2008 Red Raiders.
Tech has dropped three of its last four, including last week to Iowa State, since a 3-0 start.
“We need to play better,” Kingsbury said. “I felt like, Oklahoma State and West Virginia, we had a chance to win those games. Last week, even in the fourth quarter, we were driving before that interception and had a chance to win the game. But you can’t turn the ball over three times.”
The Sooners continue to try to work their way back into the College Football Playoff discussion after a surprising home loss to Iowa State earlier in October.
Mayfield remains the primary reason Oklahoma is still in the mix, especially after throwing for 410 yards and a pair of touchdowns and rushing for 69 yards and two scores last week.
“Watching him this year, the command he’s playing with, having so many reps in this offense, he doesn’t make a mistake,” Kingsbury said. “He’s virtually impossible to sack and just playing at a really, really high level.”