By DAVE SKRETTA, AP Sports Writer
LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — Baker Mayfield knows full well by now that the television cameras are always on him, part of the gig when you’re the starting quarterback at perennial powerhouse Oklahoma.
Not to mention the Heisman Trophy front-runner.
The downside to all that attention is what occurred on Saturday. After getting slighted during the coin toss by the captains from Kansas, the fiery Mayfield proceeded with a series of histrionics that forced him to apologize after the 41-3 rout to just about everyone: his teammates, fans, even the kids who wanted his autograph.
There was the near-constant jawing with the Jayhawks. The back-and-forth with fans seated behind the Oklahoma bench. The cursing at Kansas coaches and, ultimately, the lewd crotch grabbing.
“In the moment, you do something, you get caught up in the emotional stuff,” Mayfield said afterward, never once ducking a question about his antics. “I talk about being a competitive player. When I realized the coaches said something, that’s when I realized that I really messed up.”
Sooners coach Lincoln Riley didn’t witness the lewd gesture, only hearing about it when the third-ranked Sooners returned to the postgame locker room. He praised Mayfield’s competitive nature but acknowledged that he’d gone out of bounds, saying “we can’t have that and he can’t do that.”
Riley did say he would consider video of the game before meting out any discipline.
“If there’s enough there for punishment,” he said, “then there will be.”
Now, the Jayhawks were hardly the innocent opponent on Saturday, getting on Mayfield’s nerves right from the start when he reached out to shake hands at midfield and their captains rejected him.
There were also the numerous late hits, including a roughing-the-passer penalty on cornerback Hasan Defense that probably should have been targeting, and more pushing and shoving throughout the game.
“That’s what happens when you play a physical sport. You’re not going to let anybody talk to you in a certain way,” Defense said. “Whenever something gets physical, your mouth gets physical as well.”
Jayhawks coach David Beaty said he was proud of his players for taking a stand in the midst of a one-win season, but he stopped short of condoning their behavior throughout the game.
“I saw him, but he’s a competitor. I mean, guys do what they do,” Beaty said of Mayfield. “I’m not sure exactly what took place. He’s not my player. So it’s not my job to manage him. It’s my job to get our guys to where they can — they stop him where maybe a guy doesn’t have that opportunity to do that.”
“He’s a terrific player,” Beaty added. “I’ll tell you what, I haven’t seen any better.”
Therein lays a challenge: How do you reconcile arguably the best player in college football with all the baggage that Mayfield brings to the table?
Remember, there was the back-and-forth with the Texas Tech coaching staff when Mayfield transferred to Oklahoma. And the embarrassing arrest in February for public intoxication, disorderly conduct, fleeing and resisting arrest after an incident outside an Arkansas bar, which resulted in Oklahoma ordering him to complete 35 hours of community service and an alcohol education program.
Earlier this season, after a high-profile victory over Ohio State, Mayfield grabbed a huge Oklahoma flag and proceeded to plant it right in the middle of Ohio Stadium.
He later apologized for the demeaning act.
At what point, though, do the apologies begin to ring hollow? That was a question that was posed to Mayfield after Saturday night’s game at Memorial Stadium.
“There’s a lot of stuff that can happen between the lines that can be disregarded outside of that. Some people flip a switch,” Mayfield said. “It’s not who I am. I’m not trying to play this ego of being a bad kid. That’s not who I am. I’m not someone who’s always going to be in trouble. I’ve had one instance off the field where I’ve had a mistake. On the field, I’m a competitive guy.
“There’s a lot of trash talk that goes on,” he said, “and (against Kansas) it went too far.”
Mayfield said he returned for his senior season to lead the Sooners to a national title, and their No. 4 spot in the latest College Football Playoff ranking means they’re closing in on that chance.
But they still have to beat West Virginia next weekend, then beat TCU a second time or exact some revenge against Iowa State in a revived Big 12 title game. And to pull off two more wins, the Sooners need their star quarterback to keep his emotions in check.
“Baker is a competitive guy and let the emotions get the best of him,” Riley said. “It was a very chippy, emotional game (on Saturday), but again, we can’t have that.”
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