LAWRENCE, Kan. — No. 4 Oklahoma might be capable of beating Kansas by playing in a trance.
But when did quarterback Baker Mayfield ever play in a trance?
The ebullient Heisman Trophy candidate looks at the conference standings, sees the Sooners (9-1, 6-1 Big 12) at the top and the Jayhawks (1-9, 0-7) at the bottom, and only mentions one issue.
“We haven’t won the Big 12 yet,” Mayfield said. “They’re a Big 12 opponent that’s in the way of our goals so it shouldn’t take any extra motivation.
“We have to have the same mindset no matter who we’re playing against. That’s kind of been our focus all year — it doesn’t matter who we’re playing. We have to rise to the occasion and play well, week-in and week-out.”
The Jayhawks have rarely prevented opponents from looking good. Their nine-game losing streak coincides with the FBS portion of their schedule. Each loss has been by double digits. Within the Big 12, Kansas has been outscored 319-109 and has lost 27 of their last 28 games, going 1-24 under third-year coach David Beaty.
The game will be the last at home for the Jayhawks, who stunned Texas in overtime in their final home game a year ago. But that was when the Longhorns were playing out the string under former coach Charlie Strong.
Oklahoma presents a far different challenge coming off Big 12 wins over Oklahoma State and TCU that were essentially elimination games for the College Football Playoff. Also, the Sooners have won 12 straight against the Jayhawks, all under Bob Stoops.
Mayfield is the nation’s most efficient passer, completing 71.2 percent of his passes while throwing for 31 touchdowns with just five interceptions. His 355.9-yard average ranks second nationally.
A point first-year coach Lincoln Riley likes to stress, however, is that every game is important to maintain any kind of title hopes, especially since the Big 12 reinstituted its championship game. That outing, on Dec. 3 at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, figures to pit the Sooners in a rematch with a conference rival.
“Everybody wants to make this conclusion or that conclusion,” Riley said. “We have people wanting to crown national champions before the season even starts. You never know. That’s the beauty of this game. You have to enjoy it and appreciate it every single week.”
Leaders for the Kansas program received some appreciation, too, leading into the Oklahoma matchup — or at least a reprieve from any possibility they could be released at the end of the season.
Both Beaty and athletic director Sheahon Zenger received a vote of confidence from first-year Kansas chancellor Douglas Girod.
“I want to reiterate my confidence in Sheahon and coach David Beaty,” Girod wrote in a statement titled, “Football and our national aspirations.”
“Nobody denies the challenges we are having on the field but I maintain my belief that Sheahon and coach Beaty have the right long-term vision and are doing things the right way.”
Zenger has come under heat as the athletic director who fired Turner Gill after two seasons, picked Charlie Weis as his first football hire before firing him after four games into his third season, and then hiring Beaty, who stands 3-31. Beaty’s only victory over an FBS opponent was the Texas win last season.
In a Sept. 22 news conference to announce a $350 million fundraising campaign designed mostly to upgrade Memorial Stadium, Girod stated his support for Zenger and Beaty and essentially reiterated that message this week.
Kansas has apparently settled on Carter Stanley at quarterback. The sophomore withstood a pounding in a 42-27 loss at Texas last week, completing 27 of 43 passes for 268 yards and three touchdowns. He threw three interceptions, however, and was left attempting to rally the Jayhawks from a 28-7 deficit after one quarter.
“I’ll say this about Carter Stanley, that might be one of the toughest cats I’ve ever been around,” Beaty said. “They knocked the fool out of that guy. He is bleeding from every part of his body, and he gets up and can barely move. He is a tough dude. I give it to him.”
Defensively, Oklahoma has had problems much of the season. In its 38-20 win against TCU, three freshmen made their first career starts in the secondary and gave the Sooners a noticeable lift.