By CLIFF BRUNT, AP Sports Writer
NORMAN (AP) — Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield still has that chip on his shoulder.
Last season, he set the NCAA record for passing efficiency and finished third in the Heisman race. That’s after leading the Sooners to the College Football playoff in 2015 and finishing fourth in the Heisman balloting.
Even with all that success, he’s as motivated as when he arrived at Oklahoma as a walk-on.
“It’s still there,” Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley said. “I think if you have that, then you have it. And I don’t think it ever goes away, at least if it’s real. And with him, it certainly is real.”
Now, Mayfield’s drive is about closing out his career with a national title. The senior will take his first step toward that goal when the seventh-ranked Sooners open the season at home Saturday against UTEP.
Mayfield is looking forward to shifting the focus to game action. He was arrested in February in Fayetteville, Arkansas, and charged with disorderly conduct, public intoxication and resisting arrest. He entered a plea deal and the school required him to enter an alcohol education program and perform community service .
“It’s been a long offseason,” Mayfield said. “I’m ready to get back out there and see what this team’s made of.”
Mayfield has plenty of talent around him. Left tackle Orlando Brown, a preseason AP All-American, leads an experienced offensive line. In all, nine of 11 starters return from a unit that ranked third nationally in scoring and second in total offense.
“I’m realistic when it comes to this game,” UTEP coach Sean Kugler said. “I’m not a fool. We’re 45-point underdogs. But I’m also realistic with what type of team we have, and I know these kids are going to go out and compete their tails off.”
Here are some things to look for when the Sooners face the Miners a week before they travel to No. 2 Ohio State:
Oklahoma will play its first game since 1998 without Bob Stoops as head coach. Riley was promoted from offensive coordinator when Stoops abruptly retired in June . The 33-year-old Riley feels ready to step in.
“There’s not one part of this that I felt unprepared for,” he said. “I felt good, and a lot of that has been the people around me giving me support, delegating more here and there.”
Mayfield no longer has Biletnikoff Award winner Dede Westbrook, but he still has some dependable targets at receiver. Jeff Badet, a transfer from Kentucky, is the most likely candidate to fill Westbrook’s role as a deep threat. He caught 31 passes for 670 yards and four touchdowns last season for the Wildcats. Junior tight end Mark Andrews, already a two-time All-Big 12 selection, caught 31 passes for 489 yards and seven touchdowns last season for the Sooners.
OKLAHOMA’S NEW BACKS
Oklahoma has sent record-setting running backs Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon to the NFL. Four players are vying to fill their shoes — Rodney Anderson, Abdul Adams, Trey Sermon and Marcelius Sutton. Running backs coach Jay Boulware said the race for the starting job is too close to call.
“There’s no clear-cut leader,” he said. “Really and truly, those guys, you could put any one of them out there and they could make plays and they can all do things that they need to work on. That’s where we are.”
Left guard Will Hernandez was named a second-team preseason AP All-American.
“Even with all the good teams that we’re going to play this year I don’t know that we’ll play an offensive lineman individually any better than this guy for the rest of the season,” Riley said. “He’s fantastic. He’s got a bright future and looks like a guy that has a chance to play on Sundays for a long time.”
NO MORE MR. JONES
UTEP’s Aaron Jones declared for the NFL draft after rushing for 1,773 yards last season, leaving a huge void in the Miners’ ground-based attack. Sophomore Walter Dawn Jr. is listed as the starting running back. TK Powell returns after missing last season because of academics. He rushed for 124 yards on 16 attempts against Louisiana Tech in 2015.
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