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The weird history of Baker Mayfield and Texas Tech

The Red Raiders found a diamond in a rough, then lost him to a conference opponent.

Texas Tech v Baylor Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

When the Texas Tech Red Raiders visit the Oklahoma Sooners on Saturday (8 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN2), they’ll face a star quarterback who used to be theirs.

In 2013, Baker Mayfield walked on at Texas Tech and ascended rapidly.

Mayfield was a historic recruiting miss by almost the entire country. He was a low three-star on the 247Sports Composite, with his only listed offers from FAU, New Mexico, and Rice. Mayfield opted to pay his own way in Lubbock instead. Anticipated starter Michael Brewer was injured before the season, and Mayfield started to get things to fall into place for himself.

He was the first true freshman walk-on in FBS history to start a season opener at QB, we think. Mayfield won that game, 41-23 at SMU, and the next four games after that. On Oct. 5, he was 5-0 with nearly 1,500 yards and an efficiency rating near 150. He’d slipped into Kliff Kingsbury’s air-raid offense and was making it rain.

Mayfield got hurt and started to slide down Tech’s depth chart.

He’d been injured in a Week 5 win at Kansas. Tech won the next two games in his absence but then embarked on a five-game losing streak. Mayfield didn’t return until the third of those losses, to Kansas State on Nov. 9. He later said Kingsbury didn’t communicate with him while he was injured, and that he could’ve played sooner.

“When I got hurt, there was no communication between me and my coach,” Mayfield told ESPN. “When I got healthy, I didn’t know why I wasn’t playing right away. At that time, we were losing a couple games in a row. I was still clueless as to why I wasn’t playing. That was really frustrating for me because I started the first five games and we won. So, I just didn’t really know exactly what he was thinking or what the situation was.”

When Mayfield did get back on the field, he didn’t know “how short the leash would be.” He started the last few games of the regular season, both losses.

Mayfield announced he’d transfer in December 2013.

He said Texas Tech hadn’t offered him a scholarship for the spring semester, which was fairly wild given the season he’d had. FBS teams get 85 scholarships, and managing them is tough, but Mayfield was an above-average starting QB. Kingsbury has denied that Mayfield wouldn’t have gotten a spring scholarship.

Future NFL pick Davis Webb had overtaken Mayfield on TTU’s roster, and Patrick Mahomes, an eventual first-rounder, would become TTU’s 2014 starter.

Mayfield transferred to Oklahoma. That got ugly.

There are two relevant rules to know here. One is the NCAA’s, and one is the Big 12’s. The NCAA’s says that players who transfer, if they haven’t already graduated, must sit out a year before returning to game action. That “academic year in residence” is a redshirt season, so players get an extra season tacked on at the end of their careers.

But the Big 12 has a rule that if players transfer within the conference, they lose that year of eligibility, in addition to having to sit out the season. That loss of eligibility could be waived by the player’s former school, but Tech denied Mayfield’s request to do that — and also, for a while, to let Oklahoma put Mayfield on scholarship.

Once Tech relented on that point, the NCAA let Oklahoma have an extra scholarship slot for Mayfield as he sat out 2014.

Mayfield didn’t do much in 2014, though he did get kicked out of a Lubbock restaurant while the Sooners were in town during the season:

The night before OU and Texas Tech played, he sat down for dinner at a Chimy’s restaurant. But, before he could finish his meal, he was approached by a restaurant worker and asked to leave.

Without putting up a fight, Mayfield exited the restaurant under a shower of boos.

“Besides eat my tacos and drink my water, I don’t think (I did anything to deserve it),” Mayfield said Tuesday, recalling the incident. “I didn’t want any trouble so I just walked happily out of there and went on.”

When Mayfield became eligible in 2015 and won the Sooners’ QB job in fall camp, he figured to only have two more years of eligibility. The 2016 season was supposed to be his last in college.

Somewhere around here, TCU head coach Gary Patterson spoke up for Texas Tech, accusing Mayfield’s dad of being a pain.

Just spoke with TCU coach Gary Patterson, who, while at practice for the Horned Frogs' Alamo Bowl match-up vs Oregon, called over the coach who recruited Mayfield, DC Chad Glasgow. "When did we tell Baker Mayfield he wasn't getting a scholarship?"

"First week of January," I heard Glasgow respond.

Patterson: "I like Baker Mayfield. I think he's a good kid and that's what disappoints me.

"If Baker Mayfield wants to blame TCU for 128 BCS schools not offering him a scholarship, that's fine. But ask Kliff Kingsbury why he didn't offer him a scholarship at Texas Tech. Ask about Baker's dad [James]. He's an arrogant guy who thinks he knows everything. If people knew the whole story, they might not have a great opinion of Baker or his father."

The Big 12 later tweaked its rule to prevent Mayfield from losing a year.

College administrators don’t usually pass rules to make it easier for players to transfer, but they did here. The Big 12 made a change to let some walk-ons transfer within the conference without losing eligibility. Mayfield’s case was covered, because he hadn’t received a written scholarship offer from Texas Tech:

Instead of allowing all walk-ons to transfer regardless, the reps amended the original proposal, allowing only walk-ons without written scholarship offers from their original schools to transfer without losing a season of eligibility. If the walk-on elected to transfer after being offered a scholarship from the original school, then the player would face the league's same eligibility restrictions that apply to scholarship players.

The amended proposal passed 7-3.

The Big 12’s rule change gave him a third year of playing time in Norman. Without it, continuing Mayfield’s college career into 2017 would’ve required him to be a graduate transfer outside of the conference.

And that’s how a star freshman QB at one Big 12 school goes on to be a three-year star at another Big 12 school, where he’ll probably crush his old team on Saturday.

At OU, Mayfield is 2-0 against Tech. Last year, he had 545 passing yards and seven touchdowns against the Red Raiders in a 66-59 barnburner.

Baker Mayfield's path to the Heisman Trophy