NORMAN — No senior, or player for that matter, is more critical to Oklahoma football’s current success than Baker Mayfield.
But the No. 4-ranked Sooners’ star quarterback and odds-on Heisman Trophy favorite won’t start on senior day against West Virginia.
Mayfield also won’t serve as a team captain against the Mountaineers as part of punishment handed down by OU coach Lincoln Riley, after national television cameras captured Mayfield shouting expletives at the Kansas sideline while grabbing his crotch during last week’s game against the Jayhawks.
Riley wouldn’t say when he plans to insert Mayfield into Saturday’s game, which remains paramount to OU’s College Football Playoff chase. The Sooners (10-1, 7-1 Big 12) have already clinched a berth in the conference championship game.
Mayfield was accepting of the punishment in an emotional address to media, during which he fought back tears three times.
“Something needed to be done,” said Mayfield, whose streak of 37 consecutive starts will end. “I feel worse now because the spot I put them in. It’s not something that a coach wants to do. There are necessary things and punishments and consequences for actions for what I did on Saturday. It’s tough, but I understand for sure.”
Redshirt sophomore Kyler Murray will start at quarterback for OU. Murray started three games as a freshman at Texas A&M before transferring to OU, and has been efficient appearing in five games this season, completing 16 of 19 passes for 307 yards and two touchdowns.
“I think Kyler will be fine. He’s been in this arena before. He’s started big-time football games before. I think he’ll handle it very well,” said Riley.
Mayfield met with his coach Monday morning about the decision.
“He owned it like he did after the game. Just like I expected. He was very disappointed,” Riley said.
Riley also became emotional during his address. He paused for 30 seconds to compose himself when explaining what Mayfield means to him personally, but that relationship wasn’t enough to undo what the program viewed as a misstep.
After Mayfield threw a short touchdown pass to Mark Andrews in the third quarter against KU, he stormed down the OU sideline looking at the Jayhawk bench in plain sight of an ESPN camera, which caught him yelling “(expletive) you” and making the obscene gesture.
Mayfield apologized afterward, but visuals of his behavior ripped through the national sports and news cycle Saturday and Sunday, while igniting feverish debate on social media.
Mayfield said he endured “48 hours of regret” and didn’t totally grasp how big the story had become until Monday when he walked through the Switzer Center and saw it leading a day-time talk show.
“This program has very high standards; this university has very high standards,” Riley said. “When they’re not met, there has to be consequences.
“At the same time, he’s a young person. When I was his age, I made a lot of mistakes, too. I’m sure everyone in this room did and that’s part of it. It’s a growing process.”
Riley’s decision to discipline arguably America’s best player came after talking with “people that are important to me,” but the first-year head coach wished to keep those names and conversations private. He did speak with both OU athletic director Joe Castiglione and university president David Boren.
Mayfield’s Heisman chances were not part of the discussion, Riley said.
“Our whole goal in this was two-fold: make sure we uphold the standard of this university and this program and making sure we take care of him. We have a strong responsibility for both,” Riley said.
Riley said the punishment was not based on a culmination of Mayfield’s past actions.
Mayfield pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges of public intoxication, disorderly conduct and fleeing last offseason following a February arrest in Fayetteville, Arkansas. OU’s program required him to complete 35 hours community service an undergo alcohol education.
Mayfield, who has thrown for 3,816 yards and 34 touchdowns in 11 games this fall, also submitted an apology after he pretended to stick a flag in the Ohio Stadium turf after OU’s 31-16 win over Ohio State in September.
His latest spotlight slip was somewhat provoked.
Before ever throwing a pass against the Jayhawks last week, Mayfield was irked when KU’s captains refused to shake his or any OU captains’ hand during the pre-game coin toss.
Mayfield nodded his head and clapped aggressively, then a chippy game ensued, with five personal fouls between the teams, including a late hit toward Mayfield’s head by KU defensive back Hasan Defense.
“Provoked, unprovoked, at the end of the day, that doesn’t matter,” Riley said. “We all know what provoked it. But it’s something that cannot happen and [we cannot] stand by.”
While Mayfield understood, that didn’t remove the disappointment of not being on the field to start senior day.
That’s not even the worst it, he admitted.
“Not being a team captain is so much more,” Mayfield said. “It would be hard if it were a regular game. It being my last one here, ever, it means a lot more. It’s gonna be tough. Even without all this, it was gonna be an emotional one and hard to handle.
“This makes it … It’s gonna be hard.”