ATLANTA — Once more, a juicy bowl showdown against the SEC awaits Baker Mayfield.
This time, the brash Oklahoma quarterback would rather stiff-arm the talk in a way that resembles the trophy he’s favored to hoist Saturday night in New York City.
“I think it’s just [facing] the University of Georgia,” Mayfield said Wednesday at the College Football Hall of Fame, when asked by SEC Country about facing another SEC team in a bowl game.
“It’s a great program. Obviously, they’re a great team. There’s a reason they’re in the playoff. So it’s a good matchup for us. I think their strength is their front guys on their defensive line, their linebackers. And our strength is our offensive line. So it’s going to be good for us.”
No doubt, the Rose Bowl matchup between the Big 12 champion Sooners and the SEC champion Bulldogs will be good for viewers who enjoy bold football to go with their New Year’s Day bubbly.
Many expect Mayfield to enter the national semifinal as the Heisman Trophy winner, after he totaled 4,340 yards passing with 41 touchdowns and 5 interceptions this season. He’ll match wits against a Georgia defense featuring electric linebacker Roquan Smith. The Bulldogs allowed only 13.2 points per game during a march to the program’s first conference title since 2005.
Last season, Auburn was on the wrong end of a Mayfield masterpiece in the Sugar Bowl, where he threw for 296 yards with 2 interceptions during a 35-19 rout. But this Bulldogs team has more bite than the Tigers squad that tangled with the Sooners signal caller in New Orleans.
Iron vs. iron. Fire on fire. Strength against strength.
Whatever label you choose for Mayfield’s date against a dominant SEC defense, know respect has been earned.
“A lot of talented guys,” Mayfield said of Georgia’s defense. “The front seven, they don’t have a weakness. They play well together, so I think looking at them, a lot of times you look for weaknesses. With them, it’s pretty hard to find.”
It’s hard to find a weak spot in Mayfield’s game, too.
Oh, he hasn’t been boring. He has been part firecracker, part fire starter this season. There’s the maestro on the field and the madness with the crude gestures seen around the world. There’s the play behind center that will take your breath away and the planting off a flag at Ohio State that will make you sigh.
So who is Mayfield? Everything you see is what you get, all the beautiful parts and the examples of his brashness that fall outside the lines.
“His chip on his shoulder that he plays with is real,” ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit said. “And he’ll have a big chip with Georgia, just because of the whole Big 12, SEC [dynamic].
“He’s going to have to do a good job of controlling his emotions. But I personally love how he plays with a little bit of that attitude.”
That edge has made Mayfield among the cream of what college football offers this season, warts and all.
“There have been ups and down,” Mayfield said. “But the thing for me is, I’m learning and growing. I’ve addressed those things, and 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 going through life, and I’m proud to say that I can go through this process and let people see that I am growing and becoming a better person. So for me, it has been ups and downs. But I’m learning from my mistakes and am moving forward.”
The next stop on Mayfield’s path of discovery is another staredown against an SEC foe with high stakes. Count on it being delicious.
“I love a challenge,” Mayfield said. “It’s going to be a physical matchup. We like that.”
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