si

Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield is on this week's cover of Sports Illustrated. (Photo: Sports Illustrated)

NORMAN — Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley was asked recently if raising another Heisman Trophy statue east of Owen Field can help his recruiting efforts.

Riley’s sure-it-wouldn’t-hurt response made one wonder if talk of the award might get old soon.

All season, OU has balanced team goals with the individual accolades and attention that come with quarterback Baker Mayfield’s wild popularity.

That test continues this week ahead of the No. 3 Sooners’ biggest game to date, in the Big 12 championship against TCU (11:30 a.m., Saturday, FOX).

Mayfield is the heavy Heisman Trophy favorite, so much that Bovada recently pulled his odds off the board. Most people already consider him winner of the award, which will be handed out Dec. 9 in New York.

Riley said the locker room is functioning as normal, even as his star quarterback continues attracting media attention.

“It’s really not that hard [blocking it out],” Riley said. “Our team goals, believe it or not, are right there in front of us right now. We’re in the moment right now. I know those things are big deals, I get that. Within our walls, I don’t want to say this the wrong way, there are way more important things to us. Way more important things to this team.”

Thursday, the latest Sports Illustrated magazine hits newsstands with Mayfield striking a Heisman pose on the cover. Inside, a feature story entitled "Welcome to The Baker Mayfield Show," weaves his on-field feats with his uncanny ability to grab the spotlight.

It marks the 40th time an OU athlete has graced the cover in SI’s 60 years of business. Throughout college football, only Ohio State has made more appearances on the front than OU.

That publicity is priceless, even if teams featured on the cover have a complicated history of faltering afterward. The Sooners (11-1) have plenty ahead of them with TCU (10-2) this week and

a potential College Football Playoff run in the cards.

Mayfield will continue commanding the public glare, but this is OU’s final game week to balance his attention before the Heisman Trophy is presented. Win or lose this weekend, the pre-award hype will be over the next time the Sooners take the field.

Only, none of this seems to really irk OU players, who outwardly adore Mayfield for his work on and off the field. The team has largely mastered the art of compartmentalizing the media circus around its star quarterback.

“He’s a lovable guy, a great guy, and I feel like he’s the same on the field, too,” OU running back Rodney Anderson said. “He’s straight-up in whatever he’s doing and he’s always honest, and he’s just a great leader. I can’t say anything better about him.

“He’s amazing.”

Mayfield hasn’t downplayed attention that has come his way as a result of the Heisman, but said he is more focused on winning a national title.

“For me, the mindset is I have to win against TCU and then win two more games after that,” Mayfield said. “Whatever after that, the good teams at the end of the year have individual players get recognition. I have a great supporting cast. None of that happens without them and the coaches.”

This Week's Circulars